Monitoring Bogoslof: How life responds to volcanic destruction

Even with the formation of new land, Bogoslof Island has shrunk. (Courtesy Chris Waythomas, AVO/USGS)

Bogoslof Island is an important breeding ground for marine mammals and seabirds, making it the perfect place to monitor how life responds to volcanic destruction.

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The island is tiny. But it’s hard to say how tiny because the shape and size of the island are changing almost constantly since the eruptions started December 16. While recent eruptions have added new land, Chris Waythomas of the U.S. Geological Survey said on the whole, the roughly mile-long island has shrunk.

“It looks quite a bit different than it did before,” Waythomas said. “It’s very susceptible to wave erosion, so deposits that formed hours ago are immediately being attacked by the ocean.”

With continued seismic unrest, the island is in a constant state of flux. But Waythomas can document that change with commercial satellite data that he turns into maps, which creates an opportunity to study how an island and its ecosystem respond to volcanic activity.

“When their habitat is altered, what do they do?” Waythomas said. “Where do they go? Does it impact the species significantly? How have these species dealt with these sorts of things?”

Waythomas said research in this natural laboratory applies to both natural and manmade disturbances.

“The big question is: If this happens, how long will it take to recover?” Waythomas said. “If we put this mine in here or if this spills, how long does it take to come back?”

For that answer, we’ll just have to wait.