Representatives from the Alaska Volcano Observatory will be on Kodiak Island this week installing measuring equipment to collect 103-year old volcanic ash that regularly fouls the air and halts air travel.
Christi Wallace is a Geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage. She says this study isn’t so much geology-related, but health related, and the AVO is interested in knowing if the dust in the air is indeed volcanic or not.
“If it’s just dust of another nature for example, glacial deposits, then we want to know that,” she said. “Because the hazards associated with ash are different than they would be associated with other kinds of dust material, say glacial silt, or fine-grained material coming off of a river bed for example.”
She says volcanic ash, on a microscopic scale, is comprised of jagged pieces of glass, where as glacial till is larger and rounder.
“The size also matters. If the particles that are falling out are coarse, in other words coarser than 10 microns across, then they’re not something that can be inhaled into the human lung, and so all of a sudden it’s not a hazard,” Wallace said. “And because Katmai is very near by it’s possible the particles are coarse enough that they’re not actually respirable by the human lung.”
Wallace said if the results come back that the re-suspended dust is predominantly volcanic ash, then the study will look at historical health records to see if there’s any correlation.
While on the island to install the measuring equipment, Wallace will be speaking at the Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center downtown this evening.
“Sometimes people get excited and think there’s an eruption going on over in Katmai. There’s various products that go out by the weather service, by the Volcano Observatory, by the air quality group at the DEC,” Wallace said. “So we’re just trying to put everything into context so that people understand what these are and that they occur regularly and basically give some information on why we’re there and what we’re trying to understand.”
The second measuring device will be installed in Larsen Bay.
“We’re going to do a more of a hands-on question and answer session as we put the instrument up. So we’ll be at the home of David Harms, mayor of Larsen Bay, and we’re inviting the community to come watch us set the instrument up and talk about what we’re doing,” she said. “We’ve got some visuals we can point to, but it will be in a very informal, outdoor setting.”
Since the volcanic ash generally only becomes airborne during certain times of the year, Wallace said they’ll be removing the measuring equipment by the end of November. They may return in the spring.