Alaska volcano: Seawater, magma figure in eruptions

By DAN JOLING

Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska’s remote Bogoslof Island is only 169 acres, a third the size of the average American farm. And its highest “peak” is just 490 feet, half as tall as the Eiffel Tower.

Like other Aleutian islands, it’s swarming with sea lions. But it’s what’s below the surface that sets Bogoslof apart.

The tiny island is the summit of an active, underwater volcano that extends down 5,500 feet, with its base on the floor of the Bering Sea.

Since mid-December, the volcano has erupted more than two dozen times, sending up clouds of ice crystals and rock fragments that airliners must dodge as they fly between North America and Asia.

The explosiveness is partly due to the volcano magma’s interaction with seawater, and the ash clouds could be a regular feature in 2017, said Chris Waythomas, a U.S. Geological Survey research geophysicist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

“Some of the previous, historical eruptions have lasted many months,” he said.

Bogoslof is younger than the United States. The island appeared after an underwater eruption in 1796, the year John Adams defeated Thomas Jefferson to become the nation’s second president. Castle Rock, a lava plug left by that eruption, stands like a Gothic church spire on the island’s southwest side.

In 1883, Bogoslof Volcano erupted again and created a lava dome. The dome was once part of the island but because of erosion, now stands as a rock pillar 2,000 feet off shore.

Last month, Bogoslof blew from a vent in shallow water off its northeast side. The first confirmed ash emission was Dec. 14. Two acres on the island’s east side disappeared in the eruptions.

Since then, Bogoslof has erupted more than two dozen times, sometimes sending ash clouds higher than 20,000 feet — potentially in the path of jetliners.

Air traffic controllers receive an advisory after eruptions, said Allen Kenitzer, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman. Bogoslof so far has caused no major interruptions.