Flights cancelled as Pavlov continues to spew ash

Alaska Airlines is canceling dozens of flights as Pavlof volcano, on the Alaska Peninsula – spews ash more than 30 thousand feet in the air.

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Pavlof volcano in eruption, March 27, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Colt Snapp, taken from a flight enroute to Anchorage, from Dutch Harbor)
Pavlof volcano in eruption, March 27, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Colt Snapp, taken from a flight enroute to Anchorage, from Dutch Harbor)

Satellite images from the Alaska Volcano Observatory show the ash cloud from Sunday’s eruption stretching in an arc across the state Monday, reaching into Canada by late afternoon.

Pavlof is one of Alaska’s most active volcanoes, but Robert McGimsey, a staff volcanologist with the AVO, says Sunday’s explosion stands out as the most energetic of Pavlof’s eruptions in the last 20 years.

“In previous eruptions there was some ash, but for the most part the eruption clouds were more white or light brown and water vapor was a large component,” said McGimsey. “This seems to be more of an explosive eruption involving more ash.”

Some of that ash settled today over the village of Nelson Lagoon, 40 miles northeast of Pavlof. Residents there posted pictures on Facebook today of vehicles, porches, and stairs layered thickly with the black dust.

About 37 miles the southwest of the volcano, residents in King Cove have so far been spared the ash fall, but King Cove Fire Chief Christopher Babcock says he and his wife got a good look at the eruption shortly after it was reported by AVO Sunday.

“Last night was the best show,” said Babcock. “You could see it was putting on quite a show of spewing lava and flames out the side of the mountain.”

Ten miles away in Cold Bay, staff at the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge was preparing to put trash bags over equipment and to seal doorways, in case the wind shifted

Alaska Airlines has cancelled 41 flights to and from Barrow, Bethel, Kotzebue, Fairbanks, Nome, and Prudhoe Bay, and says they hope to get back on track Tuesday morning after they reassess.

Smaller carriers like PenAir and Ravn cancelled flights through the same flightpaths.

Pavlof has been making headlines across the nation.

It caught the eye of a volcano expert in Pennsylvania, not because of the size of the eruption itself, but because of its current proximity to the jetstream, the vast, narrow band of winds flowing above 30,000-35,000 feet.

Ben Edwards, an associate professor of Earth Sciences at Dickinson College, says the way the jet stream is sitting right now, the ash from Pavlof could be in California in a couple days.

“The jet stream is coming across the Pavlof, across southern Alaska and basically shooting straight down the West Coast…” said Edwards. “So Pavlof hasn’t had recently any really, really big explosive eruptions of the kind like Mount St. Helens, but if it puts up ash and gases long enough, depending on how stable the jet stream is right now, if it stays in this pattern, it’s certainly gonna be making the news in the Lower 48 states.”

At the AVO, McGimsey says Pavlof’s seismic activity has been declining since about 4 a.m., so it appears this particular eruption is waning. But he says, it wouldn’t be out of character for Pavlof to strike again without warning.

“It’s very possible, yes,” said McGimsey. “The last four or five eruptions this is exactly what it’s done. It erupts, then it quiets down, and then there’s a period of quiescence, and then with little precursory activity, because the vent system is open, it’ll just go into eruption again.”

McGimsey says the AVO is keeping a close eye on Pavlof’s activity.