Tag Archives: volcano

Lake Clark National Park & Preserve

It’s National Park Week!

Lake Clark National Park & Preserve is located approximately 100 miles southwest of Anchorage. Originally designated a National Monument in 1978, the area was named a national park by Congress in 1980 via the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Photo credit: NPS

The park itself is roughly 2.6 million acres, with an additional 1.4 million set aside as preserve, putting the total size at just over 4 million acres. In 2018, the park saw 14,000 visitors.

The Lake Clark area gained some degree of fame through the adventures of Dick Proenneke, who documented his homestead life at Twin Lakes before the area became a park. Proenneke not only kept detailed journals, but filmed his world in a documentary style. Alone in the Wilderness, the book about his life at Twin Lakes, and the PBS documentary of the same name were extremely well received by Alaskans and non-Alaskans alike. Not an easy thing to accomplish!

Lake Clark is a vital salmon hatchery for Bristol Bay, and is Alaska’s sixth largest lake at 42 miles long and a maximum depth of just over 1000 feet.

Lake Clark NP&P is also home to two active volcanoes. The ever rumbling Mount Redoubt and Iliamna volcano, which has been quiet of late.

Lake Clark NP&P is not road accessible. One can get to the park via floatplane or via boat from Cook Inlet.


The Great Alaska April Fool’s Joke

The “eruption” of Mount Edgecumbe, April 1, 1974

April 1, 1974; Sitka, Alaska

Residents of Sitka awoke that morning to beautiful, clear skies. It was a perfect day, until someone looked across Sitka Sound to Kruzof Island and its dominate feature: The long dormant volcano, Mount Edgecumbe. Black smoke could clearly be seen rising from the volcano’s crater.

Word spread quickly. Residents poured out to the beach to stare across the Sound. The authorities began taking call after call from concerned citizens. A U.S. Coast Guard commander radioed the admiral in Juneau. A helicopter was sent out to investigate.

As the Coast Guard pilot approached the crater, the smoke plume grew in size. He eased over the crater edge and peered down into the abyss, only to see a pile of burning car tires. Spray painted into the snow, in 50 foot tall letters was : APRIL FOOL.

“Porky” Bickar first thought of the idea of the fake eruption in 1971. He hoarded old tires for the next three years, and when April 1, 1974 neared, with its perfect weather forecast, Porky knew the time had come. His wife had one request: “Don’t make an ass of yourself”.

There ended up being one catch. The first two pilots contacted to fly the tires into the crater refused to go along with the prank. But the third one proved to be the charm, and Earl Walker of Petersburg was enlisted.

The tires were loaded up into two slings and hauled out to the crater along with several gallons of kerosene, and a few smoke bombs for good measure. When the pilot went back to Sitka for the second sling, Porky worked on writing the message in the snow.

The pranksters were not totally irresponsible. They had contacted both the FAA and local police, and clued them in on the joke. They did forget all about the Coast Guard, however.

The reaction in Sitka was overwhelmingly positive after residents realized that the volcano was not going to blow. The Admiral who sent the helicopter out to investigate, met Porky at a 4th of July party years later. He admitted to Porky that the prank was a “classic”. Alaska Airlines even used the stunt in a 1975 advertising campaign that highlighted the “irreverent spirit of Alaskans”.

Oliver “Porky” Bickar, was 50 years old at the time of the prank. A WWII vet, having taken part in the D-Day invasion, Porky came to Sitka with his wife in 1960. He was known for ending the All-Alaska Logging Championships, by felling a tree on a target. The target was usually a hard hat. Porky was also a talented artist working in metal.

Most importantly, Porky may be Alaska’s top prankster. On a personal note, I enjoyed reading how he would place pink, plastic flamingoes in trees along the shore for the tourist boats. A man truly worthy of his legend status.

Porky passed away in 2003 at the age of 79. RIP.


Getting Edgy Under Edgecumbe

Mount Edgecumbe, as seen from Thomsen Harbor, Sitka, Alaska; Photo credit:U.S. Forest Service/Jeffrey Wickett

Last April, a series of earthquakes around and under Mount Edgecumbe brought greater attention to what was considered a dormant volcano. Measurements show that magma is moving deep underneath Edgecumbe. Other signs have also brought new scrutiny: Hikers have discovered vents with bubbling gas near the volcano, and satellite images show a bulging of the ground around Edgecumbe.

None of this means that Edgecumbe will blow anytime soon, but the State of Alaska has reclassified Mount Edgecumbe as a “high risk volcano”. With 73,000 people living in the region, the reclassification was probably wise. Currently, the east side of Edgecumbe is bulging faster than any volcano in Alaska.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory has plans to install seismic sensors and other instruments on Mount Edgecumbe over the coming months. Core samples show that the volcano erupted between 4000 -4300 years ago, and Tlingit oral history tells of an eruption approximately 800 years ago.

Currently, Alaska has one volcano at Code Orange, and four others at Code Yellow.

Unrest under Mount Edgecumbe and a bulging eastern flank


Alaska helped take down the Roman Republic

Volcano Week:

Okmok Volcano; Image credit AVO

Ice core records from the Arctic show that Alaska’s Okmok Volcano had a massive eruption in 43 BCE. Following the eruption, there was an abrupt cooling globally, which led to crop failures, famine, disease, and eventually, social unrest. The Mediterranean region was no exception to this.

Such a shift in climate, coming a year after the assassination of Caesar, would have put great pressure on local powers. Strain was also felt in Egypt.

Okmok has a very active history. At one time, it had a 150 meter deep lake in its crater. A notch in the rim eventually drained the lake, although some small remnant lakes remain near cones B & D.

The eruptions of Okmok 8300 and 2050 years ago earn a Volcanic Explosivity Index rating of 6, which puts it on par with Novarupta and Krakatoa.

On 12 July 2008, Okmok erupted without warning, sending ash 50,000 feet into the air. It erupted continuously for almost six full days, causing transportation problems in the air and on the water for the region. That eruption was ranked a 4 VEI, which is considered “cataclysmic”.

Okmok Volcano; Photo credit: AVO/Burke Mees

Back to 43 BCE. The decade following the eruption was one of the coldest in a millennia, with 43 and 42 BCE being some of the coldest years. It is believed that a temperature drop of 7C from normal was a result of the volcanic eruption on the other side of the globe.

The full, scientific report can be found here:

https://www.pnas.org/doi/full/10.1073/pnas.2002722117


The Islands of the Four Mountains

Volcano Week:

An Aleutian Caldera?

There is a cluster of volcanic islands in the Aleutian Chain that scientists have recently been asking a rather provocative question: Could they all be a part of one giant super volcano, similar to the Yellowstone Caldera?

This tight grouping of islands is home to six stratovolcanoes: Carlisle, Cleveland, Herbert, Kagamil, Tana and Uliaga. Mount Cleveland has been one of the most active volcanoes in North America over the past 20 years.

Most stratovolcanoes tend to have modest sized reservoirs of magma. Although that doesn’t mean they can’t have explosive eruptions, but they are dwarfed by caldera forming eruptions. A caldera is formed by tapping a huge reservoir of magma in the earth’s crust. A caldera forming eruption releases a massive amount of lava and ash, and they are catastrophic, often causing world-wide effects.*

Field work continues, although there is nothing easy about doing research in the Aleutians.

Mount Cleveland

Photo and map credit: USGS, *University of Alaska – Fairbanks


Volcano Week!

It’s the tail end of Volcano Week with the National Park Service. The above photo, of Mount Wrangell, was taken in 1902 by W.C. Mendenhall, of the U. S. Geological Survey. The namesake of Mendenhall Glacier.

Mount Wrangell is a andesitic shield volcano within Wrangell-St Elias National Park. Its last eruption was in 1930, but it has been actively steaming for over 100 years.


T-Rex in Aniakchak

A T-Rex track found in Aniakchak National Monument

Aniakchak National Monument is the least visited location with the National Park System, but back in the day, Aniakchak had one rough resident.

A footprint recently found is the first evidence that Tyrannosaurus rex once roamed in the area that is now part of Katmai National Park.

Park Rangers asked, “If you had seen this while exploring Aniakchak, would you have recognized it as a print?” Going by the photo, I would have to say “Not likely”, but I’ll remain optimistic.

The Aniakchak Caldera; Photo credit: NPS

The Monument surrounds the Aniakchak Volcano, which had a devastating eruption 3400 years ago. The Aniakchak caldera is 10 miles across and averages 500 meters deep. Within the crater is Surprise Lake, which is the source of the Aniakchak River.

Besides the lake, Vent Mountain is the other prominent feature within the crater. Vent Mountain is the source of the most recent eruption from Aniakchak, which took place in 1931.

Aniakchak received monument status in 1978.


North Cerebus

Semisopochnoi goes Orange; Photo credit Matt Loewen

The North Cerebus crater at Semisopochnoi Island released a large ash plume on Sunday. It was the first confirmed emission since June 12.

Semisopochnoi has no native land mammals, but it is home to over 1 million sea birds.


Alaska Time

A landslide across Lowell Point Road, outside Seward, Alaska

A landslide blocked Lowell Point Road in Seward over the weekend. Workers began to cautiously clear the road on Monday. Lowell Point is outside Seward, and the narrow gravel road follows the shoreline of Resurrection Bay out to the point, where there are several campgrounds, lodges, resorts and B&B’s. It’s a pretty area, dominated by the beauty of Resurrection Bay. As of Tuesday, there were at least 40 cars trapped on the “wrong” side of the landslide. No word on how many travelers, who were trying to get out to Lowell Point, and now can not get to their destination.

The landslide view from the air

This post is less about the landslide, and more about giving yourself extra time when visiting Alaska, and accepting the unexpected.

This is Alaska, after all.

I’ve seen a lot of complaints online about the slide from tourists, and I know several housing accommodations have taken some flack for the road closure. No matter where you are in Alaska, and this includes Los Anchorage, you are never very far from wilderness. That is the main draw of the place.

Our infrastructure is minimal when compared with the Lower 48. Many communities have one way in and one way out. In my time in Alaska, I’ve probably seen it all: Roads closed from landslides, wash outs, beaver dams, ornery moose and/or grizzly, avalanche and wildfires. Flights delayed or rushed because of blizzards, volcanic eruptions, and pilot strikes. Sometimes, all you can do is take a deep breath, open a cold refreshment, and chill out for a day… or two…

We all have deadlines, but sometimes we find ourselves dealing with forces that have no interest in flight departures. So, if you visit Alaska, by all means, get out and explore the state, but leave the time planner at home. Enjoy both the view and the ride.


Magma Rising

Mount Edgecumbe displacement; Graphic credit: AVO

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the swarm of earthquakes underneath Mount Edgecumbe. The numbers are in, and radar satellite data reveals a ground deformation around the volcano. Data was analyzed for the past 7.5 years, and since 2018, an uplift around Mt Edgecumbe has been constant. The peak activity, around the crater, has shown an average uplift of 3.4″ per year since 2018, and a total uplift of 10.6″.

Earthquakes in and around Mt Edgecumbe, Map credit: AVO

With the data of the ground deformation, AVO has come to the conclusion that the swarm of earthquakes is due to the movement of magma below Mount Edgecumbe, and not due to tectonic activity.

Mount Edgecumbe, a 3200 foot high stratovolcano, lies 15 miles to the west of the community of Sitka. There is no volcanic monitoring system on Edgecumbe, but there is at Sitka. AVO plans to install instruments closer to the volcano in the near future.

The rising of magma under a volcano does not necessarily mean that an eruption is imminent. The deformation and earthquakes could cease at any time. If an eruption were to occur, warning signs such as increased rate of deformation, and an increase in the earthquake swarms, would give advance warning of an eruption.