Volcano Stirs Near Amchitka

Thursday, August 30 2012


(Steve Smith/AVO)

A remote volcano in the western Aleutians has started rumbling.

An earthquake swarm at Little Sitkin started around 7pm on Wednesday and picked up this morning, prompting the Alaska Volcano Observatory to put the volcano on watch. So far, no eruptive activity has been detected.

Rick Wessels is a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, and he says the earthquakes have been striking just few miles below the volcano. He says that while the quakes have been hitting at regular intervals, they haven’t been very powerful.

"If you’re standing on the island, you probably wouldn’t have felt any of these," says Wessels. "But from a volcano perspective, you know, there’s a lot of activity there at depth that was going on that wasn’t going on 24 hours ago."

The normally quiet volcano is located in an unpopulated stretch of the Aleutian Chain. The nearest community is Adak, at a distance of 200 miles. But Little Sitkin is just 20 miles away from Amchitka, a former nuclear test site.

Wessels says the proximity of these two places isn’t a cause for concern. Weapons tests in the 1960s and 1970s did not trigger seismic activity, and radioactive waste has since been sealed off. If Little Sitkin did erupt, it wouldn’t look like a science fiction movie.

"I don’t expect to see Godzilla coming out of this one," says Wessels.

Wessels adds that the bigger worry is flight traffic, and the volcano’s aviation color code has been raised to yellow. Cargo and passenger planes regularly travel near Little Sitkin, and an ash cloud from an eruption could affect travel.

The volcano is expected to remain on 24-hour watch through the weekend.


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