The 2006 eruption of Augustine Volcano, Alaska

Professional Paper 1769
Edited by: John A. PowerMichelle L. Coombs, and Jeffrey T. Freymueller



Augustine Volcano, the most historically active volcano in Alaska’s Cook Inlet region, again showed signs of life in April 2005. Escalating seismic unrest, ground deformation, and gas emissions culminated in an eruption from January 11 to mid-March of 2006, the fifth major eruption in 75 years. The eruption began with a series of 13 short-lived blasts over 20 days that sent pyroclastic flows; snow, rock, and ice avalanches; and lahars down the volcano’s snow clad flanks; ash clouds drifted hundreds of kilometers downwind. Punctuated explosive activity gave way to effusion of lava and emplacement of thick block-and-ash flows on the volcano’s north flank that continued through mid-February. In mid-March renewed extrusion resulted in the building of a new, higher summit lava dome and two blocky lava flows on the north and northeast flanks of the cone. The eruption resulted in ash fall on many south-central Alaskan communities and disrupted air traffic in the region.

Augustine’s frequent eruptions and relatively easy access have long drawn volcanologists to study the accumulation, ascent, and eruption of andesitic to dacitic magma. Studies of the most recent activity before 2006, in 1976 and 1986, revealed that the volcano lately produces explosive eruptions that are preceded by months of unrest and injection of new magma into a storage region in the upper several kilometers of the crust. Each of these eruptions then followed a similar progression from explosive to effusive behavior over several months. Petrologic and geophysical observations suggest that these three eruptions were triggered by similar magma mixing events and that the subsequent ascent and eruption of magma was governed by processes that were roughly constant from one eruption to the next. Geologic studies of the island show that in the more distant past parts of Augustine’s edifice have failed repeatedly, resulting in debris avalanches that entered the sea and, at least once, in 1883, caused a tsunami that hit surrounding Cook Inlet coastlines. Such edifice failures and resultant local tsunamis should be expected in the future.

Recognition of Augustine’s frequent activity and hazardous nature led to the installation of a network of telemetered seismometers beginning in 1971, the establishment of a geodetic network in 1988, and the installation of other new instrumentation such as pressure sensors, broadband seismometers, and cameras by the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO), and the selection of Augustine for geodetic instrumentation through the EarthScope/Plate Boundary Observatory program in 2004. In addition, remote sensing techniques, such as airborne thermal imaging and the advanced spaceborne thermal emission and reflection radiometer (ASTER), provided novel and often critical information as the 2006 eruption progressed. The combination of a long-term seismic network and an array of new monitoring techniques has provided a breadth and depth of understanding of Augustine’s most recent activity that was not possible in the past.

This volume contains 28 chapters reporting on a diverse suite of new scientific observations and investigations that were motivated by the 2006 eruption. Understanding the magmatic processes that drive eruptions, identifying eruptive events, tracking the movement of ash clouds, and communicating the resultant hazards to other government agencies and the public are all critical tasks for AVO, and chapters touch upon all of these topics. One goal in this compilation is to synthesize the diverse information into as complete an understanding of the magmatic and eruptive processes as possible.

An equally important goal is to provide a framework for diagnosing periods of unrest and formulating forecasts of eruptions that will certainly take place at Augustine in the future. This latter goal is especially important, as Augustine’s frequent eruptive activity suggests that another eruption can be expected within the next several decades. Consequently, the investigations in this volume are intended to provide both a means to better forecast future eruptive episodes and also an opportunity to formulate and test future hypotheses for magmatic and eruptive processes. Future eruptions may follow a course similar to those observed in 1976, 1986, and 2006. However, a major perturbation that upsets conditions within the magmatic system could occur, owing perhaps to the rise of a much larger or different parental magma or to a large edifice failure similar to the 1883 sector collapse. In such events, the comprehensive study of past eruptions will provide data critical to assessing the current state of the magmatic system.

In assembling this volume we have sought as consistent and accurate a portrayal of the 2006 eruption as possible. We have asked all authors to refer to the same basic eruption chronology, unless their observations and data require alternative explanations. Naturally, not all techniques or methodologies produce a completely consistent set of observations, nor do the precise conclusions in every paper support one another. We have grouped chapters on the basis of discipline. Papers that focus on specific techniques, methodology, or instrumentation are placed throughout the volume where they best fit with others that rely on their results.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title The 2006 eruption of Augustine Volcano, Alaska
Series title Professional Paper
Series number 1769
DOI 10.3133/pp1769
Year Published 2010
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Alaska Volcano Observatory
Description Report: xi, 667 p.; Sections Folder; Chapters Folder; Sections links; 28 Chapter links
Country United States
State Alaska
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y