Eruption 1 year ago won’t be Augustine’s last

Back asleep for now

Posted: Tuesday, January 09, 2007

 

  Mount Augustine spews steam and ash high into the air above Cook Inlet during an eruptive stage last January. Experts estimate the next eruption may be in 12 years. Michael Armstrong, Homer News

Mount Augustine spews steam and ash high into the air above Cook Inlet during an eruptive stage last January. Experts estimate the next eruption may be in 12 years.

Michael Armstrong, Homer News

A year ago this month Kenai Peninsula residents bought extra air filters for their cars and human resource managers gave paper masks to office workers in anticipation of the volcanic ash geologists warned might rain down on them.

On Jan. 11, 2006, months of restless activity reached a peak as Augustine commenced its first eruption in about 20 years, but one year later state geologists say Augustine has again found peace.

Augustine’s eruptive activity ended in March and since then seismic activity and expelled gases have dropped back down to pre-eruption levels. But with all of the data collected from Augustine’s last eruption, state geologists still are in a heightened state of activity analyzing it all.

“Certainly for an Alaskan volcano this current eruption was probably the best observed and the best monitored,” said Michelle Coombs, a geologist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory and U.S. Geological Survey.

During the eruption, geologists used cameras, global positioning systems and other tools to carefully watch and measure Augustine as it belched lava ash and gases into the air, and its sides heaved and sank.

By analyzing the data collected in Augustine’s last eruption, geologists will be able to better understand the volcano’s temperament the next time it erupts, said Coombs.

“Because it was so well monitored we were able to detect what the magma was doing beneath the surface before it erupted. So that was something really new for us,” she said. “(And) what we’re able to do now is kind of a post mortem on this eruption and say this is what we think these different signals mean based on what happened last time.”

Augustine’s 2006 eruption produced one-tenth of a square kilometer of lava and ash, and was slightly smaller than Augustine’s last two eruptions in 1986 and 1976.

Geologists are analyzing rock samples taken from the 2006 eruption to see if they can be correlated with geophysical signals observed before and during the eruption, Coombs said.

And when can Augustine be expected to stir again?

Coombs said geologists cannot predict when the next eruption will occur, but based on Augustine’s history, 12 years would be a good estimate.

“We’re all quite sure that it will erupt sometime in the not too distant future because it’s just so active,” she said. “Some volcanoes only erupt once every 500 years, and Augustine is obviously not one of those. It’s one that erupts much more frequently.”

Patrice Kohl can be reached at patrice.kohl@peninsulaclarion.com.



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