Eruption at Sarychev Peak threatening air traffic

Sarychev Peak in Russia erupting on June 14, 2009. Image courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory.

The transpacific air routes over the Aleutians, the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Kuril Islands are a prime location for the threat of ash to commercial aviation. Many of these volcanoes, especially on the western side of the Pacific Ocean are not closely monitoring and sometimes only remote sensing techniques can keep track of the activity.

Case in point is the current eruption at Sarychev Peak in the Kuril Islands. The volcano is on one of the southern-most Kuril Islands (Ostrov Matua) in Russia, just north of the (contested) border with Japan. The eruption was first detected on June 12th by the U.S. Air Force Weather Agency and then captured by the MODIS on a NASA Aqua satellite. The impressive tan plume is seen over the cloud cover spreading over 250 km / 150 miles away from the volcano. By June 13th, the ash had spread to over 700 km / 450 miles from the volcano, again captured by NASA (including some thermal information indicating the hot spot for the volcano). The ash plume is over 8 km / 5 miles tall - and it is this thick ash plume that is threatening air travel across the Kuril Islands.

This is the first time I had heard of Sarychev Peak even though it is one of the most active volcanoes in the Kuril Islands. An andesitic volcano currently sits within an older 3.5 km / 2 mile caldera. The volcano produced both passive and explosive eruptions, either in the form of andesite lava flows (possibly as recently as 1986) or pyroclastic flows, some of which necessitated evacuations of the (sparse) population. An eruption in 1946 was possibly as powerful as a VEI 4 where pyroclastic flows made it to the ocean.

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My son was flying from Houston to Tokyo yesterday. The flight was diverted to Anchorage, where they waited, got more fuel, and took the long way around the volcano.

Departure of ANA flight NH001 from Washington Dulles to Tokyo delayed by 3 hours (15th June) with warnings to passengers of possible re-routing / further delays once airborne. United flight on the same route records on time departure.

My family was at Narita waiting for Matt's Continental flight (CA06) to take back to Houston. It is in the air, about 6.5 hours late on the return leg. A look at flight trackers has the whole air lane shut down and more southern routes packed. No family until tomorrow :-(.

By Kelli Baker (not verified) on 15 Jun 2009 #permalink

My family was at Narita waiting for Matt's Continental flight (CA06) to take back to Houston. It is in the air, about 6.5 hours late on the return leg. A look at flight trackers has the whole air lane shut down and more southern routes packed. No family until tomorrow :-(.

By Kelli Baker (not verified) on 15 Jun 2009 #permalink

I was on flight DL 3799 from JFK to NRT on 6/15. We were diverted back to JFK after flying 6 hours. I'm still at JFK in fact.... trying to get to Tokyo.

Wow, thanks for the updates on flights affected by the eruption. Sounds like the airlines are quite worried if they were turning flights around after 6 hours in the air.

My wife was rerouted to SanFran instead of taking direct flight from Detroit to Nagano. the flight was going to refuel and then go to Japan.

I was on flight NW 1 from LAX to Tokyo, connecting to Nagoya.
The flight was 3 hour late, and I had missed my connecting flight to NGO. The earliest available flight to NGO was 24 hour away, so I decided to take the bullet train to Nagoya, but it was too late. By the time I got to Tokyo station, the last train to Nagoya had departed 15 minutes before.
Fortunately I got hold with a friend in Tokyo, and I am staying over tonight at his place. I'm going home tomorrow.Phew~~

My daughter on NorthWest Flight from Atlanta to Tokyo just 1 hour ago diverted to San Francisco to refuel, and take another (more southerly path?) to Narita, Tokyo. 3:50pm, Tues. 6/16/09. Passengers have been told there will be a 3 1/2 hour flight delay.

By Steve Harley (not verified) on 16 Jun 2009 #permalink

I was on continental 9 newark -> narita (tu 6/16), and we were diverted halfway (after about 7 hours) and actually went back to new york.

a flight map picture is here:

pilot mentioned that one plane had serious trouble with the plume (lost power on the engines for 12 minutes?)... also some shock about the order to return to nyc. (which is based on the fact that continental didn't have hubs out west that could reticket people, etc and the staff couldn't refuel in alaska because of going over to many hours).

back in new york, trying my luck on the next continental flight...

Continental flight 7 from Houston to Tokyo was diverted back to Houston in mid flight (half way to Tokyo) yesterday.

Sarychev is a very active volcano, last erupting in 1989 [small], VEI 2 in 1976, 1965 and 1954; VEI 3 in 1960, and generating a thick layer of cinders in 1946 [VEI 4] which buried much of the remains of Japanese military occupation during WWII. There is an abandoned Russian village, Sarychevo. No one lives on Matua, but it is visited by afficianados of WWII sites. Scientists from the Kuril Biocomplexity Project visited Matua in the summers of 2006, 2007, 2008.

We have no plan to return this summer, though we hear there may be a volcanological expedition later this summer. Currently there is a group surveying marine mammals in the area, we hope they will get information about how the eruption affects the local biota.

This island was hit hard by a tsunami in December 2006. We have before and after observations from that event
[MacInnes et al., 2009 Pure and Applied Geophysics; and MacInnes et al., in press, Geology]. We are studing the pre-historic tsunami record and perforce then are also documenting the pre-historic record of volcanic eruptions. Without going into details, suffice to say that our excavations are full of volcanic cinders. We'll have to wait and see what deposits this current eruption leaves not only on Matua but on neighboring islands, where also we have surveyed recently.

We plan soon to post pictures of the pre-eruptive state of Matua and Sarychev.

Thanks for all that information on Matua Island, Jody (and coming from folks based at my former stomping ground, U of Washington). I look forward to whatever updates you can offer on the state of things around Sarychev Peak.

I was post #5 above, made a typo, I was on flight DL3799 departing on June 14th (not 15th).

Here is my flight route pic. It's framed small but the body of water in the top right is Hudson Bay, so we turned around over the Northwest Territories north of Alberta.

I finally made it to Japan on DL 055 from ATL to NRT departing on 6/16. That flight pushed back from the gate, taxied and then we came back to the gate to drop cargo and get more fuel so we could fly a more southern , and longer route to avoid the ash.

Any word yet as to whether the UN or The Obama plan to fine the volcano for CO2 releases in violation of Kyoto? I've wondered how they intend to cap and trade eruptions...

Hi all. Is there any estimate of VEI # and total SO2 release for this eruption?

Thanks! :-)

@terry: Simon Carn is perhaps the most active in tracking SO2 using the OMI. ( SO2 can also be estimated from MODIS and AIRS, but these infrared estimates tend to be about 30% or more lower than UV backscatter estimates - that's just a typical limitation of the physics when dealing with the mid infrared.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 28 Jun 2009 #permalink