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Alaskan volcano could erupt, disrupt international air travel

From Darrell Calhoun, CNN
updated 5:05 AM EST, Wed February 1, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mount Cleveland is on the Aleutian Islands, southwest of mainland Alaska
  • A satellite recently detected "eruptive activity" and a lava dome there
  • Scientist: 90% of air freight from Asia to Europe and North America flies over Alaska air space
  • Eruptions of Icelandic volcanoes forced the cancellations of thousands of flights in recent years

(CNN) -- Officials are monitoring a remote Alaska volcano that could launch an ash cloud, potentially threatening intercontinental flights.

"Eruptive activity" of Cleveland Volcano was detected in satellite data, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

The volcano, also known as Mount Cleveland, is on the Aleutian Islands, southwest of mainland Alaska.

"A new lava dome has been observed in the summit crater," the observatory said Tuesday. "There have been no observations of ash emissions or explosive activity during this current lava eruption."

But the volcanic activity could heighten and affect air travel, said Steve McNutt, a scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

McNutt said 90% of air freight from Asia to Europe and North America flies over Alaska air space, and hundreds of flights -- including more than 20,000 passengers -- fly through Anchorage's air space daily.

"If there is an explosion and (ash) reaches high altitudes, it will causes flights to be rerouted and ultimately canceled," McNutt said.

The volcano's most recent significant eruption took place in 2001. It produced three explosions that led to ash clouds as high as 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) above sea level, according to the volcano observatory.

"The 2001 eruption also produced a rubbly lava flow and hot avalanche that reached the sea," the observatory said.

Last year, volcanic ash spewing from Iceland's Grimsvotn volcano forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights across Europe.

The Grimsvotn eruption came about 13 months after Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano belched smoke and ash into the skies, forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights per day at the peak of the problem.

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