Cleveland’s New Lava Dome Increases Eruption Risk

After a few quiet months, Cleveland Volcano is waking up.

Cleveland’s last recorded eruption was in November. Then, at the end of January, the Alaska Volcano Observatory’s satellites picked up warming temperatures on Cleveland’s surface. And they found a new lava dome growing in the summit crater. It’s 330 feet in diameter — just shy of a football field.

Chris Waythomas is a geologist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory and the United States Geological Survey. He says Cleveland periodically grows lava domes, only to have them explode a few months later.

“You know, if there’s enough gas and water vapor that builds up, the dome itself could be exploded out,” Waythomas says. “Part of that explosion would be flying ash. But other parts of it would send large chunks of rock — block-sized chunks of rock — out of the crater, onto the flanks of the upper part of the volcano.”

Because of that risk, the observatory has raised the aviation alert level around Cleveland to orange. Theoretically, the volcano could produce an ash plume extending as high as 20,000 feet into the atmosphere, which would disrupt commercial air traffic. But Waythomas says that isn’t likely.

“It would not be surprising if there were some low-level ash emissions,” Waythomas says. “And by low level, I mean generally below 20,000 feet, so not really a hazard to overflying aircraft.”

Cleveland’s last lava dome exploded in spring 2012.

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