Russian volcano diverts flights to Anchorage

PAYBACK: Eruption in Kurile Islands clouds Asian airline routes.

June 17, 2009 

The U.S. Air Force Weather Agency reported that Sarychev Peak on Ostrov Matua in Russia's Kuril Islands continued to release ash and steam. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA's Terra satellite captured this image. Black outlines indicate the location of some of the Kuril Islands. The deep brown color of the volcanic plume suggests high concentrations of volcanic ash, particularly west of Sarychev's summit.


The Anchorage international airport said it is experiencing an uptick in landings over the past several days because a volcanic eruption in Russia's Kuril Islands has prompted airlines to divert some of their Asia-bound flights to Alaska.

Airport staff on Wednesday called it a "turnabout of volcanic impacts," alluding to the Anchorage airport's loss of flights during the Redoubt volcano's eruptions this spring.

Redoubt, west of Cook Inlet, caused an estimated $2 million loss in revenue for the airport.

Russia's Sarychev Volcano has been erupting since late last week, said Peter Webley, an assistant research professor at the University of Alaska's Geophysical Institute. He has been helping Russia and Alaska volcano observers interpret satellite imagery of the volcano's ash cloud.

The cloud, which was traveling northwest toward mainland Russia on Wednesday, "is impacting air traffic routes that are distant from the actual eruption," Webley said.

The Anchorage airport said it has received about a dozen diverted Asia-bound passenger and cargo flights since Sunday night, including at least one passenger plane that had to overnight in Anchorage. That resulted in "many hotel rooms being booked," the airport said.

Anchorage is receiving just some of the diverted flights, which also have been routed to San Francisco. International flights to many Asian cities, including flights from Vancouver to Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo, have been canceled or diverted in recent days, according to Canadian newspaper reports.

Sarychev's thin ash cloud was visible in the north central Pacific Ocean on Wednesday, according to a report from a volcanic ash advisory center based in Washington D.C.

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