Alaska volcano spews up ash cloud in two strong bursts

Alaska Volcano Observatory says an Aleutian Islands volcano sent up an ash cloud twice Tuesday

Posted: January 08, 2020
Last Updated: January 09, 2020

This photo taken Monday and provided by Aaron Merculief shows lava flowing from a vent on the Shishaldin Volcano, as seen from Cold Bay, Alaska about 93 kilometres northeast of Shishaldin. The volcano, in Alaska’s Aleutian Island erupted at 5 a.m. Tuesday. (Aaron Merculief/The Associated Press)

A volcano in Alaska's Aleutian Islands spewed ash into flight paths, prompting a warning to pilots by the National Weather Service.

Shishaldin Volcano erupted at 5 a.m. Tuesday, the Alaska Volcano Observatory announced, and sent up an initial ash cloud to 5,791.2 metres. Clouds initially obscured the mountain, but satellite imagery confirmed the ash cloud, U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Hans Schwaiger said.

Seismicity diminished for a few hours, but it then increased again. During the increase, the volcano spewed an ash cloud to 7,620 metres, the observatory announced. The later eruption increased the volume of ash.


Wind continued to push the ash cloud northeast into the eastern Bering Sea and away from jet airliners flying between North America and Asia.

However, the National Weather Service upgraded its alert level to a warning. Trace amounts of ash were expected to fall on communities as far away as Sand Point about 225 kilometres east of the volcano.

Seismic activity greatly diminished after noon.

Location of Alaska's Shishaldin volcano and other Aleutian volcanoes with respect to nearby cities and towns. (Schaefer, J. R. G./Alaska Volcano Observatory)

The eruptions were confirmed by lighting and satellite data, the observatory said. More explosions could occur or activity could significantly decrease with little warning, according to the observatory.

The observatory first detected increased seismic activity at the volcano. Elevated surface temperatures indicated active lava at the vent in the volcano summit, the observatory said. 

Volcanic ash is angular and sharp and has been used as an industrial abrasive. The powdered rock can cause a jet engine to shut down.


The volcano is 1,093 kilometres southwest of Anchorage near the centre of Unimak Island, the largest island in the Aleutians. False Pass, a village of 40 people, is on the island's east side. Unless winds change, the cloud would move north of False Pass and would not pose a threat, Schwaiger said.

The volcano as as seen from Cold Bay, Alaska, on Monday. The U.S. National Weather Service issued a warning for passing aircraft. Seismicity significantly decreased after noon on Tuesday. (Aaron Merculief/The Associated Press)

Shishaldin also erupted Dec. 12, producing an ash cloud that reached up to 7,620 metres, and on Friday, sending an ash cloud to about 7,315 metres.

The volcano is a symmetrical cone that is 16 kilometres in diameter at its base. It rises to 2,857 metres and is the highest peak in the Aleutians.

Shishaldin is one of the most active volcanoes in the Aleutian volcanic arc. It has had at least 54 episodes of unrest, including more than 24 confirmed eruptions since 1775, according to the observatory. 

Most eruptions are small. An event in 1999 spewed an ash column that reached 13,716 metres.

The volcano is monitored with seismic and infrasound sensors, satellite data, a web camera and distant infrasound and lightning networks.

A view of surface lava within Shishaldin's crater in July 2019. (David Fee/Alaska Volcano Observatory /University of Alaska Fairbanks, Geophysical Institute)


  • This story originally erroneously measured Shishaldin's Dec. 12 ash cloud as 7,620 kilometres. It has been corrected to 7,620 metres.
    Jan 09, 2020 8:27 AM CT