Alaska Volcano Mount Cleveland Could Erupt Soon, Stopping Flights Across Pacific

A volcano on a remote Alaskan island may erupt soon, and could cause problem for air traffic as well, geologists warn.

A remote Aleutian island about 950 miles from Anchorage, Alaska is home to Mount Cleveland, which geologists describe as a "nuisance" volcano, according to a Reuters report. That means it slowly and regularly spits out ash plumes, lava flows, pyroclastic flows and mudflows. Sometimes eruptions are small enough that no one notices or cares, but in 2001 an eruption sent ash 30,000 feet into the air, disrupting air traffic.

Cleveland Volcano, a 5,676 foot-tall (1,730 meters) peak located about 940 miles (1,500 km) southwest of Anchorage. REUTERS/Kym Yano/NOAA/Handout

The Alaska Volcano Observatory, a joint venture between the University of Alaska and federal and state scientists, changed Mount Cleveland's volcanic activity alert level to orange, which is one level away from red alert, on Tuesday. That means that "major volcanic eruption is imminent, underway, or suspected but it poses limited hazards to aviation because of no or minor volcanic-ash emissions," according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Lava has been flowing from the 5,676-foot volcano since Wednesday, which indicates that a more serious eruption may soon follow. The Alaska Volcano Observatory collects info from observation areas every day, and before Wednesday, no activity was noted, so the alert level was at yellow.

University of Alaska scientist Jeff Freymueller told Reuters that the lava acts like a cap on Mount Cleveland. Historically, these small lava flows have led up to more explosive eruptions, and a powerful eruption could blow off the cap.

Although the island is distant from most civilization, resting on an Alaskan island cradling the Bering Sea, a large enough explosion could greatly affect human transportation. The haze and smoke cloud of a large enough eruption could affect trans-Pacific flights. If and when the eruption occurs, the Alaska Volcano Observatory will continually observe the area and make recommendations for stopping air travel based on the severity of the eruption and wind speed and direction.