Sunday, 1 February 2009
Scientists with the Alaska Volcano Observatory on Friday flew close to Drift Glacier and spotted vigorous steam emitted from a hole on the mountain. By Saturday, they had confirmed the area was a fumarole, an opening in the earth that emits gases and steam, that was increasing in size at an alarming rate.
They also saw water streaming down the glacier, indicating heat from magma is reaching higher elevations of the mountain.
"The glacier is sort of falling apart in the upper part," research geologist Kristi Wallace said.
The signs of heat add to concerns that an eruption is near, which could send an ash cloud about 100 miles northeast toward Anchorage, the state's largest city, or onto communities on the Kenai Peninsula, which is even closer to the mountain on the west side of Cook Inlet. It would be the first eruption since 1990.
Particulate released during an eruption has jagged edges and can injure skin, eyes and breathing passages, especially in young children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems.
It can also foul engines. An eruption in December 1989 sent out an ash cloud 150 miles that flamed out the jet engines of a KLM flight carrying 231 passengers on its way to Anchorage. The jet dropped more than two miles before pilots were able to restart the engines and land safely.
A week ago, the observatory detected a sharp increase in earthquake activity below the volcano and upgraded its alert level to orange, the stage just before full eruption. The warning that an eruption was imminent caused a rush on dust masks and car air filters in Anchorage.
Alaska's volcanoes typically start with an explosion that can shoot ash 50,000 feet high and into the jet stream, but there are warning signs because magma causes small earthquakes as it moves.
Geologist Jennifer Adleman said the observatory has been recording quakes up to magnitude 2.1 but not at the frequency that preceded the last two eruptions in 1989 and 1990.
Area 51-Fact or Fiction?
Area 51 is a military base, and a remote detachment of Edwards Air Force Base. It is located in the southern portion of Nevada in the western United States, 83 miles (133 km) north-northwest of downtown Las Vegas. Situated at its center, on the southern shore of Groom Lake, is a large secretive military airfield. The base's primary purpose is to support development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems.
The base lies within the United States Air Force's vast Nevada Test and Training Range. Although the facilities at the range are managed by the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, the Groom facility appears to be run as an adjunct of the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, around 186 miles (300 km) southwest of Groom, and as such the base is known as Air Force Flight Test Center (Detachment 3).
Though the name Area 51 is used in official CIA documentation, other names used for the facility include Dreamland, Paradise Ranch, Home Base, Watertown Strip, Groom Lake, and most recently Homey Airport. The area is part of the Nellis Military Operations Area, and the restricted airspace around the field is referred to as (R-4808N), known by the military pilots in the area as "The Box" or "the Container".
The intense secrecy surrounding the base, the very existence of which the U.S. government barely acknowledges, has made it the frequent subject of conspiracy theories and a central component to unidentified flying object (UFO) folklore.