Redoubt continues to keep us waiting

Redoubt (above) is definitely taking its time. After catching everyone’s attention last week with seismic activity, melting of its snow cap and increased gas emissions, the volcano is still, well, doing all those things, but not erupting. AVO’s update are beginning to sound like a broken record:

“(2/3/09 04:10) Unrest at Redoubt Volcano is continuing with elevated seismicity well above background levels. The volcano has not erupted. A gas/observation overflight yesterday reported continued changes in the summit glaciers indicative of heating of the summit area. Photos from both the overflight and the hut webcam showed a small vapor plume at the summit. The web camera is now dark as our long winter night continues.”

It is amusing to catch a bit of snarkiness from the AVO staff at the end of the update but hey, if I was up posting at 4 in the morning, maybe I’d throw that in as well.
You can get an idea of what life might be like at the Alaska Volcano Observatory from this article on CNN. They talk to USGS volcanologist (and fellow Williams College alum)  Michelle Coombs who says that Redoubt is still predicted to erupt in the next days-to-weeks timeframe. However, this whole drama with Redoubt shows the challenges of predicting volcanic behavior: we can have these volcanoes wired and watched 24/7, yet when exactly it will erupt is still anyone’s guess. We still have a lot to learn about how magmatic systems behave and how that translates into eruptions, which is part of the reason why it is so exciting to study them!
With that, the wait continues.


8 thoughts on “Redoubt continues to keep us waiting

  1. Thank you. Yes, it is complex. I don’t pretend to understand it all…is it even possible to wrap one’s head around it, even with coffee?
    I get nervous when there’s an earthquake near Vancouver Island that coincides with activity in the Alaska volcanoes. The lower mainland quake of 2001 was a wake-up call for many people.
    Will this new activity affect that chain of underwater Juan de Fuca volcanoes? Will it trigger tsunamis, or plate movement further south? No one really knows. Maybe I’m nervous after reading those perpetual warnings by insurance companies that they will not cover claims incurred by the next “big one”? Why do they keep bringing this up? I’ll hope that Redoubt is “just” a volcano blowing off steam.

  2. One key thing to remember is plate tectonics is a very complex system. Just because there is activity on one side of a plate does it mean that the other must react in a similar fashion. Stresses caused by the movement of the plates on the earth can be accommodated in many different ways, including (but likely not limited to) large earthquake, microquakes, folding, extension/rifting, injection of magma and fracture of the plate (although rare). The take home message is that although sometimes a large event like the Boxing Day quake might trigger other events locally and distally, it does not mean that all large events would do so. Hope that makes sense (I might not have had enough coffee yet this morning).

  3. I realize the 1964 earthquake cause was movement in the Pacific plate. That caused a tsunami that damaged the Canadian coastline and further down the coast to the western U.S. The highest wave was 67 meters.
    Could the recent seismic activity and volcanoes in Japan, Russia and Alaska portend things to come? Not being a geologist, I believe that movement of plates across the ocean along the Ring of Fire could be leading up to movement on this side of the ocean. Common sense tells me that it’s got to go somewhere. All the earth is connected.
    In a way, the volcano is the least of our worries. The 2004 Boxing Day earthquake taught this lesson. Plate movement that underlies the Ring of Fire is the big worry, and all that it entails.

  4. gg, I don’t think there is any known linkage between a Cascadia Mega Thrust quake which caused the 1700 tsunami and Redoubt.

  5. gg, I don’t think there is any known linkage between a Cascadia Mega Thrust quake which caused the 1700 tsunami and Redoubt.

  6. I remember the 1964 Good Friday earthquake. I was a child in Canada, and watched the teacups swinging on their hooks in the cupboard. I remember Mount St. Helen’s dropping ash on my city back in 1980. So, Redoubt is of great interest. Sure, it’s slow, but Mount St. Helen’s took a while, too. Could this be the “big one” that causes a tsunami on the west coast, like the one in 1700?

  7. Ross,
    To answer the first questions, I’m actually not sure how much pre-eruption seismicity there was during Redoubt’s last activity. However, to answer the second question, to my knowledge there isn’t a direct relationship between seismicity and the size of the eruption. I think it all depends on the magmatic system, the trigger for the eruption and the specific geologic setting of the volcano. We saw a lot of precursory seismic activity at St. Helens during its latest eruption that started in 2004, but that wasn’t a very large eruption when all was said and done.

  8. How much precursorary seismisity was there to the 89-90 eruption? The eruptions this past summer of Okmok & Kasatochi had very little in the way of seismic signals before they erupted. Does the longer the elevated seimicity goes on mean there’s more magma in the system and therefore the larger potential eruption?

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