Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Augustine volcano, no volcanic eruption yet!

Scientists detected an increase in sulfur dioxide gas emanating from the peak of Augustine Volcano this week, where seismic disturbances picked up again slightly after falling off last week. But there were no indications of the island volcano building toward an eruption any time soon.

Several days of clear weather were a boon to scientists with the Alaska Volcano Observatory, who were able to reach the island to install additional seismic stations and ash collection systems as well as photograph new thermal images. The clear weather brought dramatic vistas of the vigorously steaming mountain, 75 miles to the southwest of Homer.

The Homer police and fire departments fielded scores of phone calls about a possible eruption Thursday, after winds died down and the steam plume rose away from the mountain. Some of those calls may have been prompted by the sound of the town's tsunami warning siren, which is tested at noon on the first Thursday of every month.

"That probably didn't help," said Homer fire chief Bob Painter.

The 4,134-foot conical volcano has been rumbling since November and the alert level remains at Code Yellow, according to U.S. Geological Survey scientists with the volcano observatory.

The sulfur dioxide gas, an indicator of rising magma, was last measured Dec. 20.

Infra-red photographs showing heat sources on the summit detected no significant changes since late December, scientists said. One prominent fumarole had stopped steaming and another had started, but such changes are to be expected as the mountain experiences underground earthquakes, they said.

Based on past eruptions of Augustine, particularly in 1976 and 1986, scientists expect to see a sharp increase in seismic activity on the volcano before a major explosive eruption.

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