Yellowstone National Park drew geologists' attention early this year with a long swarm of small earthquakes. And now a volcano in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve seems to be waking up, with geologists saying an eruption is imminent.
But don't expect anything on the scale of the Mount St. Helen's eruption back in 1980. If the Redoubt Volcano erupts, it likely won't take half the mountainside with it, flatten surrounding forests, or kill anyone. Rather, odds are it will just send an ash and steam plume high into the sky, forcing jetliners to alter their flight paths.
"Besides covering up our computers and getting in a supply of dust masks and that kind of stuff, there really isnt’ that much for us to do,” Page Spencer, Lake Clark's chief of natural resources, told the Traveler this morning.
“In the past there have been hot lahars, and they have flooded down onto the Drift River Oil Terminal. That’s outside of the park," she added. "But if those tanks rupture, it could dump a lot of oil all down that west coast of Cook Inlet. That’s probably the biggest pending environmental hazard from this particular volcano."
During the last eruption period, back in 1989-90, one lahar sent muddy waters into the tank terminal, which is roughly 21 miles from the volcano, but crews quickly built berms that protected the tanks, Chief Spencer said.
Now, back in November the Alaska Volcano Observatory issued an advisory noting an increase in activity at Redoubt Volcano, which is located about 106 miles southwest of Anchorage. At the time it upgraded the threat level of an eruption from "green" to "yellow." Earlier this week, however, that was bumped up to "orange," an indication that the geologists expect some sort of eruption.
According to the observatory, "Redoubt is a stratovolcano which rises to 10,198 feet above sea level. Recent eruptions occurred in 1902, 1966-68, and 1989-90. The 1989-90 eruption produced mudflows, or lahars, that traveled down the Drift River and partially flooded the Drift River Oil Terminal facility. The ash plumes produced by the 1989-90 eruption affected international air traffic and resulted in about 5 mm (0.2 inches) of ash in Kenai and trace amounts of ash in Anchorage and other nearby communities."
While word of a possible eruption spawned numerous news reports in the Lower 48, Chief Spencer said it really wasn't any big deal.
“We’re used to this. This is one (volcano) of a string of four. I was just counting up this morning, and this string of volcanoes, I think there have been 36 eruptions in my lifetime, since 1950," she said. "It’s a common event, and the worst that happens is ash clouds coming over and, frankly, snarling up our machinery and our lungs. And if you wear contacts it snarls up your eyes.”
While there are a number of lodges about nine miles to the south of the volcano, the chief said they were protected by a ridge. As for the park field headquarters at Port Alsworth, that's about 60 miles from Redoubt Volcano and in no danger, she said.