by Richard Roscoe
When Pavlof volcano (2519m) erupted at the end of August, Marco Fulle (Stromboli online) and myself decided to travel over to Alaska in the hope of getting some decent shots of the eruption. Unfortunately, seismic data of the Alaskan Volcano Observatory (AVO) showed that the eruption had paused or stopped between booking the flights and the 21st of September, when we arrived nearby.
Flying W from Anchorage, our Penair flight passed Redoubt (3108m) ( Fig.1) and Iliamna (3053m) (Fig.2) volcanoes, yet the planes windows obviously hadnt been designed with the same stringency as our lenses and together with the stream of hot air from the turbines made photography somewhat challenging. Shortly afterwards, thick cloud obscured our view of the peninsula and only the summits of the Pavlof complex (Fig.3) could be seen sticking out as we approached our destination, the aptly named settlement Cold Bay, 60km ENE of the volcano. Good we were not camping.
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The Cold Bay Lodge, run by the ever-friendly Mary and Bill, was a cosy place to spend the time waiting for things to develop at the volcano and we had first hand information on what was happening (or rather not) from the group of volcanologists also staying there. Pavlof was not providing the kind of service we had hoped for (Fig.4).
We decided attempt some aerial viewing of Pavlof and Shishaldin volcanoes. Unfortunately, during the very brief periods of clearer (but certainly not clear) weather at Cold Bay (Fig.5a), no plane was available for charter, so we set off in mediocre conditions on the afternoon of 22nd Sept. towards Pavlof. Upon arrival, only the base of the volcano was visible below thick cloud (Fig.5b) and violent lee turbulence prevented an overflight of the coastal flank.
Hence, we decided to fly to Shishaldin which is located SW of Cold Bay. Conditions still didnt look promising, yet finally we could see the top of this perfectly conical volcano over the clouds. Getting closer, we could see that Shishaldin (2857m) (Fig.6abc), aswell as nearby Isanotski (2446m) (Fig.7, 8) and Roundtop (1871m) (Fig.8) were relatively cloud free. The site was stunning and we circled the summit of Shishaldin a couple of times before returning to Cold Bay.
a b c
After a promising early morning view of Pavlof, but the frustrating inability to charter a plane before the clouds obscured the volcano again, we decided to change plans and head back to Anchorage and to do some sightseeing and flightseeing from the "mainland". Some volcano chips (Fig.9) on the flight were the only hot thing we had thusfar experienced.
After a brief visit to a couple of glaciers which have been receding faster than my hairline in the last years, we used a good weather day to fly out of Homer to Augustine volcano. Passing an overloaded plane with its nosewheel in the air and its pilot scratching his head was not exactly confidence-inspiring as we strolled across to our Cessna. However, due to the harsh conditions, Alaskan pilots are probably among the most experienced in the world and can in principle land you nearly anywhere.
First we passed south of Iliamna (Fig.10). On our first passing of Augustine (1252m) it had a small cloud-cap, so we proceeded to Fourpeaked (2104m) / Douglas (2140m) volcanoes, slightly further to the W. Fumarolic activity had melted a hole in the ice enshrouding the summit of Fourpeaked (Fig.11ab) and marked the site of the last eruption. Douglas had a small frozen lake in a summit crater but showed no signs of activity (Fig.12ab). On returning to Augustine (Fig.13ab), much of the cloud had gone and part of the steaming dome was visible. Seismicity at Augustine is slightly elevated, so a new eruption could occur in the near future.
Although we had planned to fly over Spurr Volcano on a later date, this was thwarted by weather conditions and the everchanging Alaskan forecasts. Instead, we headed to the picturesque Kennicott copper mine (Fig.14a) and the Independence Gold Mine (Fig.14b) which we found in 50cm deep snow. Both were effectively closed since the tourist season in Alaska runs from May to mid-September when it abruptly ends.
It seems that weather conditions in Alaska will always complicate volcano-viewing. Whilst July and August appear to be the months with most sunshine, according to locals the Peninsula suffers from dense sea-fog during much of this period. Also, during the summer high season it is apparently very difficult to organize anything at short notice since hotels, planes and boats are often booked out months in advance.
Further Alaska impressions
Background info and more photos of Shishaldin, Augustine, Douglas and Fourpeaked the authors own website Photovolcanica.com