AVO Puts Shishaldin Volcano On Higher Alert

Friday, March 28 2014

Steam at Shishaldin's summit is seen from a PenAir flight to Unalaska on March 20, 2014. /Credit: Levi Musselwhite/AVO

Fake emergencies are overtaking Unalaska this week as part of state-wide disaster drills. But there are real rumblings going on elsewhere in the Aleutians.

After a week of unrest, Shishaldin Volcano is being put on a higher alert level.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory reported today that there have been explosions inside the volcano, and elevated surface temperatures since March 18.

AVO head scientist John Power says that appears to mean there’s been a small eruption:

"There is probably fresh magma or lava down inside the crater," he says.

Power says there hasn’t been any lava seen on the rim of the crater or the sides of the volcano. Shishaldin also isn’t emitting any ash.

But Power says this could be a precursor to a bigger event:

"Little things happen like this happen at Shishaldin probably even more often than we’re able to detect," he says, but "whenever you see some activity like this, there is a concern that it could escalate into something larger."

He says Shishaldin is now on a “watch” alert level, which carries an orange color code. It had previously been on a yellow “advisory” level since January.

Only one of the six seismic monitoring stations on Shishaldin is active right now. The others are offline, and there’s not enough funding available to repair them.

Shishaldin is on Unimak Island, northeast of Unalaska. Of all the conical glacial volcanoes in the world, it’s the the most symmetrical. It’s also the Aleutian Islands’ highest peak, and one of the most active in the chain.

Its last big eruption was in 1999, when it sent an ash plume 45,000 feet above sea level. There hasn't been any unusual activity there since 2009.

KDLG's Mike Mason contributed reporting from Dillingham. This story has been updated.

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