Alaska Volcano Threatens Air Traffic

Alaska experienced an eruptive volcano on Saturday, May 4, and its spewing ash, steam and gas over a continuous period led to air traffic troubles in the area. The remote volcano, which has long been restless, exploded three times before emitting rubble.

Cleveland Volcano, which lies 940 miles southwest of Anchorage, happens to also exist underneath a major air traffic route between Asia and North America, and though its emanations were not significant enough to threaten planes flying above, they did cause federal aviation authorities to switch traffic routes to north of the volcano, just in case.

"Based on the signals we can see, we think it's continuously in an eruption right now," Rick Wessels, U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory, said of the volcano as relayed by Reuters.

Despite the fact that Cleveland Volcano lies amid one of the most sparsely populated regions on the planet, its restlessness since mid-2011 could cause major threats for area air traffic.

Cleveland Volcano is 5,676 feet tall and has erupted with 20 to 25 explosions since bursting with lava in 2011, according to Wessels. Saturday's trio of explosions, however, seems to be something unique.

"We haven't seen a phase like this where we've had multiple explosions," Wessels said.

At the moment, the stream of ash from the Cleveland Volcano is only reaching up 15,000 feet into the air. For the stream to be threatening to passing air traffic, it would have to reach nearly twice that, Wessels said.

Scientists have been put on "around the clock" to continuously monitor Cleveland Volcano, Wessels added, saying the National Weather Service will "advise mariners to avoid the area"  should the eruptions intensify.

"It's got us all paying attention. We're not sure if it will escalate or do what Cleveland does, which is to settle down after small explosions," Wessels said.

Located on Chuginadak Island, Cleveland Volcano is the only one of 90 active volcanoes that is alleged to have resulted in the death of a person due to its eruption.    

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