The Bogoslof volcano, located 850 miles south west of Anchorage, Alaska, erupted yesterday, disrupting air travel between North America and Asia as a large ash cloud was ejected into the atmosphere during the event. During a 55 minute eruptive period, ash rose 35,000 feet, which is the same altitude many jets travel at on their journey from North America to/from Asia. Situated on the Aleutian Islands, the volcano erupted at 2:16pm local time Sunday, prompting the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) to issue a red aviation code, which is the highest warning level. The AVO has since lowered the alert level there to orange with the eruption stopped for now.
However, the AVO warns more activity may occur and without much warning. In a statement, the AVO states, “Bogoslof volcano remains at a heightened state of unrest and in an unpredictable condition. Additional explosions producing high-altitude volcanic clouds could occur at any time.” They also warned that low-level explosions occurring below their detection threshold may be ongoing and that approaching the island is unwise.
Bogoslof has been very active lately. Since the winter, Bogoslof island has tripled its size. The last eruption occurred on May 17, sending ash clouds 34,000 feet high; Sunday’s eruption marks the most significant to date. Starting in December, the volcano erupted almost daily. As of March 11, 2017, Bogoslof Island had grown to 242 acres in size and is expected to continue to grow as volcanic activity continues.
The National Weather Service Alaska Aviation Weather Unit also issued an alert that the ash cloud may climb as high as 50,000 feet. Local observers reported a “large white-gray mushroom cloud” over the volcano, which was causing continued ash fallout to the west of the eruption. Due to that fallout, the National Weather Service also issued a warning for a possible dusting of ash over the coastal waters of the island.
Volcanic ash can create significant harm to jet engines that fly through them or boat and automobile engines that ingest air-filled air. Volcanic ash is hard and abrasive, and can quickly cause significant wear to various airplane parts such as propellers, turbo-compressor blades, and even cockpit windows. Because volcanic ash particles have a low melting point, it can melt in the combustion chamber of a jet engine, creating a ceramic or glass-like glaze that then sticks to turbine blades, fuel nozzles, and combustors. A jet engine that ingests just a small amount of ash could suffer from total engine failure. Overheating and engine failure is also possible in cars and trucks since volcanic ash can infiltrate nearly every opening in a vehicle. Ash is also very abrasive; ash caught between windshields and wiper blades will scratch and permanently mark the windshield glass, and windows are susceptible to scratching each time they are raised, lowered, and cleaned.
Volcanoes create numerous hazards. In Hawaii, an ongoing volcanic eruption there is creating hydrochloric acid clouds on the coast while a poisonous volcanic fog pollutes nearby islands. NASA is using the volcanic activity on Hawaii to develop new air pollution forecasts. A significant volcanic eruption can also disrupt weather around the world; scientists have expressed concern about renewed activity in Italy where a weather-altering eruption brought a mini-Ice Age to Europe during its last major active period.
Volcanoes do erupt around the world regularly and will sometimes create an aviation hazard. In October 2016, Mount Aso erupted in Japan, disrupting flights there.