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Photos: Alaska's Pavlof Volcano puts on show

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  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published May 18, 2013

Mount Pavlof, a volcano on the Alaska Peninsula, continued to erupt Saturday, much as it has since it came back to life nearly a week ago.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory reported a narrow ash plume reaching up to 20,000 feet Saturday. The AVO released this dispatch:

Pilot reports from this morning indicate that lava fountaining and ash emission continues. Minor to trace ash fallout could be occurring on the north, east and southeast flanks of the volcano and possibly on parts of Pavlof Bay and adjacent waters southeast of the volcano. Nearby communities have not reported any ash fall over the past 24 hours.

Original story: Mount Pavlof's eruptions continue to increase Friday after rumbling to life earlier this week. And one Alaska pilot got a close up look Thursday of the volcano's massive ash plumes.

"You don't really realize the power of it until you're up close like that," said Theo Chesley, a pilot for a local air taxi in Nelson Lagoon who flew by the volcano twice Thursday. "Those plumes are moving a thousand feet a second."

Pavlof has "reared its ugly head a couple times in the last 14 years, but nothing this significant," he added. And, he says it's getting worse.

Pavlof is an 8,261-foot peak on the Alaska Peninsula about 30 miles northeast of the community of King Cove, a frequently active volcano that last erupted in 2007.

The volcano awoke Monday morning, kicking off a "low-level eruption of lava," according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO). By late Tuesday night, an ash plume reached 15,000 feet above sea level, extending downwind to the northeast for up to 100 miles before dissipating, the AVO reported.

On Wednesday, the dark ash cloud had risen to 20,000 feet, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a "Significant Meterological Event" warning, called a SIGMET, alerting pilots of hazardous conditions in the area. As the activity continued to elevate, the volcano observatory reported:

Lava fountaining at the summit has been observed and photographed, and a continuous ash, steam, and gas cloud generated by the activity extends downwind from the volcano for 50 to 100 kilometers at an altitude of about 20,000 ft above sea level.

Jeff Freymueller, coordinating scientist at the observatory, said there's no way of predicting how long the eruptions will last. "It certainly could last months," he said. "At this point we're assuming that it's going to be at least weeks."

On Friday, the peak's activity persisted, with small traces of ash now detectable in the atmosphere and nearly continuous tremors measured by five remote stations. Four of the stations are located about 6 miles southeast of Pavlof; the remaining station is 19 miles south but it's also detecting activity.

Freymueller described the tremors as a continuous vibration, making it difficult to gauge the severity of the tremors.

But the activity is more severe than the 2007 eruption, a burping episode of subdued shakes and minor ash clouds, according to AVO. The tremors are 30-60 percent larger than the previous eruption's. That may mean more magma spouting from the crater.

Lava is flowing down the northern flank of the volcano, but given Pavlof's remote location there's not much chance that the lava would hit someone. The ash, however, is another matter.

"There could be some ash fall," Freymueller said. "We did get a report of ash fall in a mining camp some distance away from Pavlof."

Chesley, the air-taxi pilot, said the wind patterns have so far spared surrounding communities of ash and smoke, but their luck may not last. "We've got a big southeast storm coming here on Tuesday so things could get ugly really quick."

So what's it like to fly by an erupting volcano?

"Kind of scary," Chelsey said. "You never know what it's capable of doing."

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at) Reporter Jerzy Shedlock contributed to this report.

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