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Plants and AnimalsPreparing for Volcanic Eruptions at Okmok Volcano, Alaska

Preparing for Volcanic Eruptions at Okmok Volcano, Alaska

Preparing for Volcanic Eruptions at Okmok Volcano, Alaska

map of aleutian islands

Location of Okmok volcano within the central Aleutian Islands, which form an arc connecting western Alaska with Northern Asia. Other volcanoes, including Cleveland, are marked by black triangles, and native communities are shown. Inset map shows context with respect to Alaska. Map: Larsen et al., 2015

Okmok volcano off the coast of Alaska has been constantly inflating since its last eruption in 2008, telling us that recent magma might be accumulating under it and that the subsequent eruption shouldn’t be far in the long run. We due to this fact selected it as a primary goal for our project, Anticipating Volcanic Eruptions in Real-Time (AVERT). AVERT is a collaboration between Columbia University and the Alaska Volcano Observatory to review volcanoes in Alaska using a wide range of monitoring instruments and modern technologies — including high-accuracy GPS position tracking, magnetometers, infrared and visual webcams, and fast satellite communication. This recent network is designed to supply real-time data directly from the volcano that will probably be immediately open to scientists and the general public to make use of.

map of monitoring stations around the okmok volcano

A map showing the topography of Okmok volcano, showing its central caldera and the cones inside it. 4-letter acronyms starting with OK mark the locations of monitoring stations. This yr’s goal is so as to add GPS, magnetometer and satellite data transmission to OKAK and OKWE, GPS and magnetometer to OKBR and OKCF, and plenty of fixes and updates at multiple other stations.

After delays as a result of COVID and poor weather, we finally made it to Okmok in mid-September. The journey here was not at all short or easy — a few of us arrived here after spending three weeks on a research vessel on the neighboring volcano, called Cleveland on the Island of 4 Mountains, which can be a component of the AVERT project. Others traveled from Recent York to Anchorage, then took a small plane to Dutch Harbor, then boarded a small boat for a 9-hour-long trip from Unalaska Island across to Unmak Island, where Okmok is situated. We also brought with us numerous equipment, including tens of batteries, solar panels, sensors, and, after all, lots and a lot of food.

crane putting food and gear onto a boat

Loading our food and equipment on the Miss Alyssa at Dutch Harbor. Photo: Einat Lev

Our food and equipment contained in the Miss Alyssa. Photo: Einat Lev

After unloading all of the gear and food on the dock, we transferred it to the place that’s going to be our home for the subsequent two weeks: the Bering Pacific Ranch on Umnak Island. Situated on a former WWII-era military base, the ranch used to have 1000’s of cattle heads, lots of which still roam the land freely. We tried our greatest to not trouble the bulls.

cows and old machines in pasture

A typical view on the Bering Pacific Ranch. Rusted machinery from bygone eras, cattle roaming freely, and Ship Rock, a outstanding rock feature within the sound between Unalaska and Umnak. Unalaska is visible within the background. Photo: Einat Lev

Looking west from the Bering Pacific Ranch towards Tulik, an older volcanic cone on the southern flank of Okmok. The snow-covered southern rim of the Okmok caldera is visible within the background. Working within the Aleutians in September means colder temperatures but additionally less fog. Photo: Einat Lev

Our only technique of transportation between the ranch and the monitoring stations is a helicopter, which makes for a fun adventure! But it surely also means we’re very sensitive to the weather conditions and may’t exit if it is simply too windy or cloudy where we are attempting to get to. Transporting by helicopter also allows us to gather many aerial photos, which we use to create detailed 3D models of the volcanic cones and flows. These will reveal information concerning the rates at which the landscape is evolving over time.

helicopter outside a cabin

Our helicopter and a full rainbow. Repeatedly changing weather conditions alternating between rain and sun make for a lot of beautiful rainbows. The cabin is similar one as within the previous photo. Photo: Einat Lev

Our helicopter against the conical silhouette of Tulik during sunset. Photo: Einat Lev

Our team unloading from the helicopter one evening on the ranch. Photo: Einat Lev

The scenery at our stations and en route between them is spectacular. For instance, the technique to the sites inside the caldera normally takes us through a narrow opening within the rim nicknamed “The Gates.” A river with big waterfalls flows through The Gates, making the doorway breathtaking each time — and never only due to the bumpiness as a result of the always-windy conditions. Stations inside the caldera have views of the multiple volcanic cones and flows, while stations outside have views of the ocean and the caldera rim.

aerial view of waterfall

Big waterfalls on the river that drains the Okmok caldera through The Gates. Photo: Einat Lev

The Gates, looking towards the Okmok caldera. Photo: Einat Lev

person near monitoring station

Field tech Cora Siebert from Alaska Volcano Observatory installing a radio antenna at site OKNO, with the north rim of the caldera behind her.

On a transparent day, Station OKBR, situated contained in the caldera on the south side, has a view of 4 different volcanic cones. Photo: Einat Lev

Cows usually are not the one animals we meet on the island. The island has many caribou living on it, several foxes frequent the ranch house hoping for scraps, bald eagles fly above, and there’s even a small herd of untamed horses.

Wild horses within the pasture by the shore, with snow-capped Tulik and the Okmok caldera rim within the background. Photo: Einat Lev

The subsequent blog post will probably be concerning the amazing food on the ranch, which really deserves its own write-up!

Einat Lev is an associate research professor at Columbia Climate School’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. 

The AVERT project is led by Einat Lev, Terry Plank, and Nick Frearson, and is funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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