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Alaskan Volcano May Become Threat to Air Traffic, Scientist Says

February 01, 2012

Feb. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Scientists are watching Alaska’s Mount Cleveland on the Aleutian Islands because it may become a threat to air traffic, said John Power, scientist in charge at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

Mount Cleveland, about 5,600 feet high, has exploded almost every year since 2005 and was particularly active in the last half of 2011, Power said. Its last blast was five weeks ago.

Earlier this week, scientists detected a new lava dome forming at the top of the mountain, an indication it may explode again. The Volcano Observatory issued an orange warning, the second highest on its four-step scale for aviation alerts.

“The explosions have not been going up very high, about 10,000 to 20,000 feet, typically not enough to interfere with international air traffic,” Power said by telephone from Anchorage. “If it does go up higher than that, then we could have real problems.”

Mount Cleveland is about 940 miles southwest of Anchorage and about 70 miles from the nearest town, Power said. While it hasn’t produced an ash cloud large enough to disrupt air travel in recent history, records indicate it has the potential to do so. It threw a cloud up to a height of 18,000 feet on Dec. 29, Power said.

The volcano has had at least 32 active periods since 1828, Power said. The island is so remote the U.S. Geological Survey uses satellites as the primary tools for monitoring it.

The volcano’s crater is between 100 and 200 meters (328 feet to 656 feet) across and the exact height of the mountain is hard to calculate because it “changes frequently,” Power said.

Lava domes have been forming and exploding for the past several months, Power said.

“We just started into a new lava dome growing and who knows how long that will stay there,” he said.

--Editors: Charlotte Porter, Richard Stubbe

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at

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