Volcanoes & Airplanes? No Way.

Alaska_locator.jpgThis last summer, I traveled to Alaska to research resource management in three distinct locations: Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Kenai Fjords National Parks. Of course, the scenery was incredible (Denali (Mt. McKinley) is the tallest peak in the North America), the wildlife amazing (I saw about 3-4 bears per day) and the experience exhilarating– but when the research was over, I was ready to get back home.

Some background: Alaska’s Aleutian Islands are an extremely volcanic region, formed by the convergence of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates. In this case, the convergence is known as a subduction zone, meaning that one plate is pushed under another, usually resulting in seismic and volcanic activity.  

Cue the volcanic eruptions.

The morning that I was to fly from Anchorage to Seattle to Tulsa, a
volcano that was hundreds of miles away from Anchorage erupted–spewing
a cloud of searing gas and ash high into the atmosphere. According to
the FAA, planes should not fly into clouds of abrasive volcanic ash
because it makes them crash, and who am I to argue with that? However,
I wanted to get home. I attempted to book a different flight for that
day (didn’t work), then another for the next day (didn’t work) and
finally a flight for anywhere (ANYWHERE) in the lower 48 states. I just
figured that as long as I could get to the lower 48, I could rent a car
and drive home. As it happens, none of those were viable options, which
means I sat in a motel for the next 3 days waiting for the ash to
settle (on my own dime, have you, because the airline did not
compensate for “acts of god,” e.g. a volcanic eruption).

Needless to say, it was an interesting experience. Never before had a
volcano interfered with my daily life. But what if I lived in a
volcanic region? For many people around the world, living with
volcanic/seismic disturbances is just something they have to deal with.

In fact, just a few days ago, Alaska’s Mt. Redoubt began erupting
and has not stopped.  As of this posting, the ash cloud has risen to
more than nine miles into the atmosphere, affecting over half of
Alaska’s population, including the Anchorage metro region. Mt. Redoubt
had its last major eruption in the late eighties, which amazingly
lasted for nearly 5 months–and some experts claim that this new
activity could possibly last just as long.


Alaska’s Mt. Redoubt a day before the most recent eruption

This, of course, is going to affect flights in and out of Alaska… and also bush flights and snowmobile travel within Alaska, two of the main modes of transport in a state that lacks a significant amount of ground transportation routes.

I imagine that if I was trying to fly out of Alaska now (or even within
Alaska), I would have more than just a 3 day wait ahead of me.

How many of you live in regions that are regularly affected by natural
phenomena such as volcanoes, tornados, hurricanes or earthquakes? I
personally am from Oklahoma, which is considered to be the heart of
“Tornado Alley,” meaning that every year I get to witness the awesome
power of massive thunderstorms–and also deal with the consequences.
More on that later, of course.

Cameron for My Wonderful World

Source: www.npr.org

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