NASA: View of Sarychev volcano eruption from ISS in 2009

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Semisopochnoi Volcano began rumbling on Thursday and erupted into life on Monday, with ash emissions and “constant shaking” observed, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said. Now, the alert level has been raised as scientists monitor the activity closely.

The aviation colour code issued by the USGS has been increased from yellow to orange and the volcano alert level has been bumped up from “advisory” to “watch”.

These alert levels indicate that a “volcano is exhibiting heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption, timeframe uncertain”.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) has reported ongoing ash emissions with a plume of ash extending to the southeast about 350 km (215 miles) out an altitude of about 6,000 m (20,000 feet) above sea level.

The AVO said: “Satellite observations from yesterday afternoon showed a robust steam plume and sulfur dioxide gas emissions.”

The AVO went on: “These observations indicate an increase in unrest and the Aviation Color Code is being increased to ORANGE, and the Volcano Alert Level is being increased to WATCH.

“Additional ash emissions are probable, but not certain.”

This type of activity is not new in Alaska, which is home to more than 40 active volcanoes.

Many of these occur along the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands – a chain of 14 large volcanic islands and 55 smaller other islands, all part of the so-called Ring of Fire.

Semisopochnoi Island is one of the largest volcanic islands in the western Aleutians and is composed of several volcanoes.

Mount Cerberus is the most active of three younger volcanoes within the island.

Semisopochnoi volcano is classified as a “restless” volcano by the AVO.

Small eruptions producing minor ash deposits within the vicinity of the volcano are typical of activity during unrest at Semisopochnoi since September 2018, with the last detected activity in June 2020.

Semisopochnoi Island is uninhabited, and the volcanic eruption poses no immediate danger to people.

However, volcanic ash rising from the Aleutians could be problematic for trans-Pacific aircraft travelling between Asia and North America.

Volcanic ash – tiny rock fragments – can create significant harm to aeroplanes that fly through them or boat and automobile engines that ingest ash-filled air.

Volcanic ash is hard and abrasive, and can quickly cause significant wear to various aeroplane parts such as propellers, turbo-compressor blades, and even cockpit windows.

Volcanic ash can melt in the combustion chamber of a jet engine, clogging the turbine blades and fuel nozzles, leading to a total engine failure.

A recent example of a highly disruptive volcanic ash cloud is the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland in 2010.

The eruption led to the closure of airspace over many parts of Europe over six days.

Some 20 countries were forced to close their air spaces and the event affected approximately 10 million travellers.

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