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Pacific submarine volcano issues 'big burp'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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(CNN) -- A rapid Pacific submarine volcano eruption has exhaled a steam and ash cloud in the air and left a trail of debris on the surface of the water near Sarigan Island in the Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. officials said Monday.

Game McGimsey, a volcanologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, said the vent, lying 1,000 feet under the surface, issued a cloud 40,000 reaching feet in the air.

As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service evacuated 16 people, mostly its scientists, from the Northern Islands off Saipan following the eruption, reported the Saipan Tribune. The area is U.S. territory.

The current volcano alert level is advisory, and the current aviation color code is yellow, meaning volcanic activity has decreased significantly but continues to be closely monitored for possible renewed increase.

Satellite images show no sign of ongoing activity, according to a report form the USGS.

Seismographs indicate a rapid and short-lived onset and that the eruption lasted a couple of minutes, McGimsey said.

"It seems to be just one big burp," said Mike Middlebooke, a senior forecaster at the National Weather Service in Guam, about the cloud burst.

The vent lies seven miles south of Sarigan, an uninhabited island that was used as a copra plantation during World War II, in the Northern Mariana Islands, a chain between Hawaii and the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean about 3,800 miles southwest of Hawaii.

Evacuees from the islands Sarigan and Pagan were all U.S. Marine and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands scientific crews, McGimsey said.

The USGS monitors don't have instruments on submarine volcanoes, and it took a while for scientists to pinpoint the exact location of the volcano, McGimsey said.

Satellites picked up the ash cloud on Friday. The cloud detached from the area above the vent, indicating the underwater eruption had ceased, he said.

Scientists, who originally thought the cloud came from the Anatahan or Sarigan volcano, identified the cloud source by the large amount of debris and water discoloration above the vent, he said.

While people aren't encouraged to hang around, there are no restrictions on the area, Middlebrooke said.

 
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