Scientists Watching For Alaska Eruption

Alaska's Mount Redoubt could blow its top imminently, scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory say. Ash could spew 50,000 feet into the air and could reach Anchorage, 100 miles away. Tom Miller, a scientist emeritus at the observatory, says an eruption could come anytime within a few hours or weeks.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Alaskans are bracing for Mount Redoubt to blow her top imminently. So say scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory. In fact, it's all hands-on deck 24/7 at the observatory. Ash could spew 50,000 feet into the air across south central Alaska and reaching Anchorage, 100 miles away. That means goggles and dust masks are flying off the shelves in local stores. Tom Miller is a scientist emeritus at the observatory and he joins us now. Mr. Miller, how imminent is imminent? When are you expecting an eruption?

Dr. TOM MILLER (Scientist Emeritus, Alaska Volcano Observatory): Based on the increase in the micro-earthquake seismicity, and the increase heat and gases we know that the mountain is very restless based on the occurrence of eruptions at other volcanoes and most recently - the most recent Redoubt eruption in 1989. We think that an eruption is more likely to occur than not, and we think it could occur any time within a matter of hours to a matter of a few weeks, so we're currently on a 24/7 watch and waiting for developments.

SIEGEL: What kind of a threat, what an eruption of Mount Redoubt pose, either to property in the vicinity, or for that matter to the health of Alaskans nearby?

Dr. MILLER: Well, of course Redoubt is in a National Park and Wilderness area, so it's remote. However, about 25 miles away from the volcano is the Drift River Oil Terminal, a facility that collects oil from offshore platforms in Cook Inlet near Anchorage. They're not under direct threat from any lava or ash, but they are in some risk to mudflows and flooding and so on. And they have prepared for this over the years and have encountered the problem before, like in 1989-90. So those are that closest people, otherwise there are about 300,000 people in south central Alaska that could conceivably have ash fall in on their heads at one time or another over the next several weeks if indeed it does start an eruption. This ash is not deadly, but it could be a problem to people with asthma and problems like that. And of course, it's a real hazard to electronics, can bother automobile engines and it's an incredible hazard to jet aircraft - high flying jet aircraft because it can stop the engines, and it's done that in the past.

SIEGEL: And do we just assume that an eruption of a volcano like Mount Redoubt is one big blast that happens, and then the dust settles or might there be...

Dr. MILLER: Well, indeed...

SIEGEL: More than one?

Dr. MILLER: It could be that. But generally, it hasn't been and indeed 1989-90, there were over 20 major explosive events that occurred between December 14th and April 21st. And all of those sent ash plumes to heights of any where from 30 to 50,000 feet, but it could easily be episodically erupting on the scale of every weeks for some few months.

SIEGEL: Tom Miller, scientist emeritus at the Alaska Volcano Observatory. Thanks for talking with us about the imminent eruption of Mount Redoubt volcano.

Dr. MILLER: You're welcome.

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