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Catalog of the historically active volcanoes of Alaska

Open-File Report 98-582

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Abstract

Alaska hosts within its borders over 80 major volcanic centers that have erupted during Holocene time (< 10,000 years). At least 29 of these volcanic centers (table 1) had historical eruptions and 12 additional volcanic centers may have had historical eruptions. Historical in Alaska generally means the period since 1760 when explorers, travelers, and inhabitants kept written records. These 41 volcanic centers have been the source for >265 eruptions reported from Alaska volcanoes.

With the exception of Wrangell volcano, all the centers are in, or near, the Aleutian volcanic arc, which extends 2500 km from Hayes volcano 145 km west of Anchorage in the Alaska-Aleutian Range to Buldir Island in the western Aleutian Islands (fig. 1). The volcanic arc, a subduction-related feature associated with underthrusting of the Pacific plate beneath the North American plate is divided between oceanic island arc and continental margin segments, the boundary occurring at about 165° W longitude (fig. 1). An additional 7 volcanic centers in the Aleutian arc (table 2; fig. 1 A) have active fumarole fields but no reported historical eruptions.

This report discusses the location, physiography and structure, eruptive history, and geology of those volcanoes in Alaska that have experienced one or more eruptions that have been recorded in the written history (i.e., in historical time). It is part of the group of catalogs entitled Catalogue of Active Volcanoes of the World published beginning in 1951 under the auspices of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior (IAVCEI). A knowledge of the information contained in such catalogs aids in understanding the type and scale of activity that might be expected during a particular eruption, the hazards the eruption may pose, and even the prediction of eruptions. The catalog will thus be of value not only to the inhabitants of Alaska but to government agencies concerned with emergency response, air traffic operations, and weather, as well as to industry and scientists. The combination of the hazard posed by volcanic ash to jet aircraft and the heavy use of international air routes located parallel to, and on either side of, the Aleutian volcanic arc means that even remote volcanoes in Alaska now pose significant hazards to life and property.

Although this report is concerned with historical eruptions from Alaskan volcanoes, other volcanoes in Alaska have erupted in the past 10,000 years and might therefore be expected to erupt again. Several Holocene volcanic centers in the Aleutian arc have no reported historical activity. Elsewhere in Alaska the Bering Sea basalt fields cover large areas of the Yukon Delta, Seward Peninsula, and several of the islands of the Bering Sea. Holocene centers also occur in the Wrangell Mountains and in isolated occurrences in the interior and southeastern Alaska. Eruptions from these centers have occurred within the past several hundred years but none were transcribed in the written record. Moodie and others (1992), however, report oral traditions among the Northern Athapaskan Indians of the southwestern Yukon Territory that may record the second and younger deposition of the White River Ash circa A.D. 720. This lobe of the White River Ash was deposited during the paroxysmal eruption of Churchill volcano in the Wrangell Mountains of eastcentral Alaska (McGimsey and others, 1992; Richter and others, 1995).

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Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Catalog of the historically active volcanoes of Alaska
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
98-582
Year Published:
1998
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Description:
v, 104 p.
Country:
United States
State:
Alaska