Three volcanoes erupt simultaneously in Alaska

Three volcanoes in a remote, approximately 800-mile stretch of the Aleutian Islands chain in Alaska are erupting simultaneously, with at least two of them spewing large amounts of ash and steam.

The simultaneous eruptions have been going on for more than a week, but they currently pose no threat to nearby communities and have not disrupted air service, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

Nonetheless, the volcanic activity has made the Aleutian Islands, a vast archipelago that juts west from the Alaska Peninsula and serves as the border between the North Pacific and the Bering Sea, noisier than usual.

“There are a lot of volcanoes in Alaska, and we usually see an average of one eruption a year,” Matthew Loewen, a research geologist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory, told NBC News. “Three eruptions at the same time is not a frequent occurrence.”

Pavlof Volcano, Big Sitkin Volcano and Semisopochny Volcano remain under threat level orange, which means eruptions are ongoing and minor ash emissions have been detected.

Pawlof Volcano is located nearly 600 miles from Anchorage. Its closest town is Cold Bay, a small community of fewer than 120 people. Closer to the center of the Aleutian Islands, Big Sitkin is located about 25 miles northeast of the town of Adak.

The Seven Sides Volcano, meanwhile, is on an uninhabited island that forms the easternmost landmass in the United States. Although the island is part of the western chain of the Aleutian Islands, it is in the Eastern Hemisphere, “on its way to Russia,” Lowen said.

The volcanic islands that make up the so-called Aleutian Arc are part of a horseshoe-shaped zone that can be traced along the edge of the Pacific Ocean, where many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. This region, known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, is seismically and volcanically active because it sits on the boundaries of several tectonic plates that constantly collide and crash into each other.

Although Pavlov, Big Sitkin and Semisopochny are in remote parts of the Aleutian Islands, they can create ash clouds that are dangerous for air travel.

“The Aleutian Arc is located between North America and Asia, so we have a lot of air travel, and ash is very dangerous for aircraft,” Lowen said. “We always pay attention to the ash from our volcanoes in Alaska.”

Lowen said it’s been at least seven years since three volcanoes erupted simultaneously in Alaska, and the recent disturbances are forcing the Alaska Volcano Observatory to actively monitor.

“It forces us to be alert,” he said. “It’s definitely an exciting and intense time for us.”

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