"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Friday, January 30, 2009

all the fuss about Mt. Redoubt

(I posted this note at a Yahoo site where I hang out with a bunch of writers. I've been asked to post it here so they can set up links to it on their blogs.)

Yes, we can see the volcano Mt. Redoubt from our porch, and, no, it isn’t in Russia. In fact, it’s just across Cook Inlet from Anchorage. Well, it’s a ways south, but it is just across the inlet from Kenai. Depending on which way the wind blows, Anchorage and the peninsula might get dusted with ash, but there’s almost no danger of toxic fumes, and certainly no danger of lava. I can’t see any of the volcanoes from where I live in Moose Pass because I’m surrounded by mountains.

Right now there’s a big fuss going on and people are grabbing up safety masks. The biggest danger is to aviation as the ash can plug and stop jet engines, and Anchorage is a major aviation crossroads. It’s very abrasive, and isn’t good for auto engines either. In 1953, when I still lived in Anchorage, Spurr erupted and covered Anchorage with two or more inches of ash. I can remember my mother vacuuming ash off her flowers. We kids thought it great fun, and played in. It did, however, make a great mess when we tracked it into the house. When it rained, it got pretty gloppy. Took several years for nature to rid us of most of it, but years afterwards, we would discover pockets of ash here and there. Plus, if you dig around Anchorage, you will come across a thin layer of ash from that eruption.

We didn‘t wear safety masks or anything, and it doesn’t appear to have hurt me (click) hurt me (click) hurt me…

I’ll tell you, there are not many sights in the world more stunning on a clear day than driving south of Anchorage along the Seward and then the Sterling highways. Leaving Anchorage, one can see across the water both Mt. Spurr and Mt. Redoubt volcanoes. From Kenai and south, Mt. Redoubt appears to be close enough to hit with an arrow, and Mt. Iliamna is also in view.

As you get closer to Homer, where I am right now in Halibut Cove, Mt. Augustine sticks its classical cone above the horizon, about eighty miles away. All four of these mountain are active volcanoes, though Iliamna hasn’t erupted for a couple hundred years at least. It has fumaroles that vent constantly, but hasn’t spewed ash or lava for some time.

Not so with the others. Augustine erupted in 2006, Redoubt in 1989, and Spurr in 1992.
They are, however, always letting us know that they are not dormant, what with their shakin’ and jivin’ and blowing off steam. All of these volcanoes are part of the Ring of Fire.

Why there’s such a fuss being made about Redoubt’s imminent eruption, I cannot say. I suspect it has to do with Sarah Palin bringing Alaska into the national spotlight.

I have written a couple stories that include mention of these volcanoes. They are, conveniently, in alphabetical order in their location, with Augustine being the farthest south, and almost due west of Homer. It is 4108 ft., and is an almost perfect circular island in the Inlet, with nothing else on it. It has a classic cone shape and is quite imposing, despite its lack of height.

Next comes Iliamna, probably the most impressive of all the volcanoes in this string. It is around 10,000 ft., but is a massive mountain. Mt. Redoubt is 10,200 ft., and Spurr is –well, I forgot to write down Spurr’s height.

North of Spurr is Mt. Susitna, the most visible landmark of Anchorage. The profile of this mountain (non-volcanic) is of a supine woman with her hair stretched out above her head. Native lore says the Sleeping Lady is waiting for her warrior lover to return.

In my stories, I liken the four volcanoes to her guardians, sending blankets of ash to cover her and steam to warm her as she sleeps.

Farther south of Augustine is a dormant volcano named Mt. Katmai, located in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Its caldera now is filled with aqua water. A pilot friend of mine always wanted to land his amphibious Widgeon in the caldera. To my knowledge, he never did, but I wrote a story about that which I will post here after this.

Wikipedia has pictures and links to Alaska volcanoes, and I suggest you check those out. There are webcams also, but the site is in danger of crashing because of the hits for Redoubt.

Oh, I should explain. If you look at a map of Alaska, find Cook Inlet, named appropriately, because Capt. James Cook “discovered” and explored it. At the upper end of the inlet, it splits into two arms, or fingers. Anchorage sits on the point between those two fingers. All the volcanoes are lined up on the west shore of the inlet. Try Google Earth.

Thee are some excellent photos and links at virtual-geology.info/vft/2004-claire/katmai.htm

(Please note that this writing in no way is intended to lessen the danger of volcanic ash to seniors and people with illnesses of the respiratory tract.)

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