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Some Thursday flights delayed, canceled in the Aleutian region following Kamchatka eruption

Shiveluch Volcano as seen from the International Space Station in July 2007.
NASA via public domain
Shiveluch Volcano as seen from the International Space Station in July 2007.

Updated Thursday 2/13/2023 at 2 p.m.

Shiveluch Volcano on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula erupted this week, with ash exploding at least 50,000 feet into the air.

In the aftermath, an ash cloud has drifted over the Aleutians Islands, with some ash and a ribbon of volcanic gas reaching mainland Alaska.

No ashfall is expected in Alaska, but the National Weather Service has issued an aviation warning for the Aleutians, the Alaska Peninsula, and Kodiak.

“This could disrupt air travel through the area, including flights that are trying to land in the Aleutians," said Nate Eckstein, the science and operations officer for the Anchorage Volcanic Ash Advisory Center. "But it’s mainly affecting North Pacific routes from North America to Asia.”

Ravn Alaska canceled its Thursday morning flight from Anchorage to Unalaska due to ash from the volcano.

“Flights have been and will continue to be impacted dependent upon ash forecast,” said Ravn officials in an email to KUCB. The airline was expected to make decisions on flights later in the day — including to Unalaska, Sand Point, Cold Bay, and St. Paul — around 3 p.m.

Aleutian Airways delayed its Thursday morning flight from Anchorage to Unalaska. But as of 2 p.m., airline officials said flights were back on track and flying as scheduled.

In an email to KUCB, Aleutian officials said “ash is moving up the Aleutian Chain and could impact flight operations going into Dutch Harbor. We are currently monitoring forecasts and actual reports to determine our course of action for the upcoming days.”

After delays Thursday morning, Grant Aviation officials said its afternoon flights were also back on track and proceeding as scheduled for regional communities including Atka, St. George, and King Cove.

As of Thursday at 7 a.m., Alaska Airlines had reported canceling 23 flights due to ash from the volcano. Alaska Airlines spokesperson Tim Thompson told KDLG the company had canceled eight Wednesday flights between Western Alaska airports and Anchorage as a safety precaution. Those flights were to Adak, Bethel, Dillingham, and King Salmon.

Thompson said Alaska Airlines is monitoring the ash cloud and may have to cancel more flights in the coming days.

Dave Schneider, a research geophysicist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory in Anchorage, said lava from Shiveluch forms a dome, parts of which periodically collapse and create ash clouds.

“What happened a couple days ago was much more significant,” said Schneider. “And it’s still too early to really know exactly what went on. But I surmise that a large part of the lava dome that’s been growing for years collapsed and unleashed a pretty good sized eruption.”

The massive ash cloud was initially moving west, blanketing villages in Russia with a thick layer of ash. But as another weather system came in, it started moving east, toward Alaska. And parts of the cloud are peeling off.

“Currently, the ash is still out in the western Aleutians,” said Schneider. “But as bits and pieces of it are sort of getting pulled off, sort of like you’re making taffy, and you can pull a branch off, and it’ll sort of go off in its own direction.”

Schneider said the volcano’s emissions decreased on Wednesday, and while there’s no guaranteeing exactly when the cloud will disperse, that’s a fair sign that travel could soon be back to normal.

Eckstein also said the ash cloud looks to be moving away from the Aleutian region. He said the aviation advisory could end Thursday, depending on how the wind blows.

“It certainly could turn back around in a few days and could continue," said Eckstein. "Volcanic events could go on for many weeks. So there could be periodic distributions during the entire activity period.”

Isabelle Ross
Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
Sofia was born and raised in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She’s reported around the U.S. for local public radio stations, NPR and National Native News. Sofia has a Master of Arts in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism from the University of Montana, a graduate certificate in Documentary Studies from the Salt Institute and a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Arts from the University of Colorado Boulder. In between her studies, Sofia was a ski bum in Telluride, Colorado for a few years.
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