Within the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Anatahan is one of nine active subaerial volcanoes that pose hazards to major air-traffic routes from airborne volcanic ash. The 2003-2004 eruptive activity of Anatahan volcano affected the region's aviation operations for 3 days in May 2003. On the first day of the eruption (10 May 2003), two international flights from Saipan to Japan were cancelled, and several flights implemented ash-avoidance procedures. On 13 May 2003, a high-altitude flight through volcanic gas was reported, with no perceptible damage to the aircraft. TOMS and MODIS analysis of satellite data strongly suggests that no significant ash and only minor amounts of SO2 were involved in the incident, consistent with crew observations. On 23 May 2003, airport operations were disrupted when tropical-cyclone winds dispersed ash to the south, dusting Saipan with light ashfall and causing flight cancellations there and at Guam 320 km south of the volcano. Operational (near-real-time) monitoring of ash clouds produced by Anatahan has been conducted since the first day of the eruption on 10 May 2003 by the Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC). The VAAC was among the first groups outside of the immediate area of the volcano to detect and report on the unexpected eruption of Anatahan. After being contacted about an unusual cloud by National Weather Service forecasters in Guam at 1235 UTC on 10 May 2003, the VAAC analyzed GOES 9 images, confirming Anatahan as the likely source of an ash cloud and estimating that the eruption began at about 0730 UTC. The VAAC issued its first Volcanic Ash Advisory for Anatahan at 1300 UTC on 10 May 2003 more than 5 h after the start of the eruption, the delay reflecting the difficulty of detecting and confirming a surprise eruption at a remote volcano with no in situ real-time geophysical monitoring. The initial eruption plume reached 10.7-13.4 km (35,000-44,000 ft), well into jet cruise altitudes; thereafter, the maximum plume height decreased and during the rest of the eruption usually did not exceed ???5 km (???17,000 ft), which lessened the potential hazard to aircraft at higher cruise altitudes. Drifting ash clouds commonly extended hundreds of kilometers from the volcano, occasionally as far west as the Philippines. Over the course of the eruptive activity in 2003-2004, the VAAC issued 323 advisories (168 with graphical depictions of ash clouds) for Anatahan, serving as a reliable source of ash-cloud information for aviation-related meteorological offices and air carriers. With a record of frequent eruptions in the CNMI, continued satellite and in situ real-time geophysical monitoring is needed at Anatahan and other Marianas volcanoes so that potential hazards to aviation from any future eruptive activity can be quickly and correctly assessed. ?? 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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Volcanic-ash hazard to aviation during the 2003-2004 eruptive activity of Anatahan volcano, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands