On June 6, 1912, if you happened to be sitting on a log outsideyour cabin near Fairbanks, Juneau or Dawson City, you would haveheard an explosion. There was no way to know the boom came from hundreds of miles away,or that it was the starting gun for the largest volcanic eruptionof the 1900s. Nor would you imagine that in the next three days amountain would collapse upon itself, or that ash and hot gaseswould explode from the ground six miles from that mountain,creating a landscape of hot ash and 500-foot-high geysers of steam. The Novarupta-Katmai eruption of 1912 was hard to imagine then justas it is now, 100 years later. Here are a few things that set theeruption apart, plucked from columns I ve written and a new U.S.Geological Survey book on the eruption by Wes Hildreth and JudyFierstein: Botanist Robert Griggs named this desolate, beautiful place The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes when he visited there on a National Geographic expedition in 1916.At the time, four years after the eruption, steam poured from ventsall over the valley.
Because the thick blanket of ash and volcanicrock has since cooled, the valley no longer steams, but thedramatic landforms still inspire the feelings of Griggs and hiscompanions in 1916. We were overawed, he wrote. In three days of the summer of 1912, a volcano Griggs named Novarupta (Latin for new vent, ) transformed 40 square miles of theworld s best bear habitat into instant badlands, burying thedownwind valley in more than 500 feet of ash and volcanic rock.Novarupta spewed 100 times more material than Mount St. Helens andsent skyward a plume that reached 20 miles high.
Sometime duringthe eruption, Mount Katmai, six miles from Novarupta, disappearedinto itself. In place of its summit today is a magnificent craterlake surrounded by 300-foot walls that echo the thunder of glaciersthat now calve into lake. Ash from the eruption reached the Mediterranean Sea, and, ifdeposited on top of Anchorage, would bury it three miles deep. High winds blowing abrasive bits of rock over the landscape isthe main reason the valley is sterile rock and ice a century afterthe eruption; few plants have taken hold there. Despite the eruption being the largest in the 20 th century, no one died except a woman already stricken withtuberculosis aboard a ship docked at Kodiak, where more than onefoot of ash fell and noxious gases persisted for days. Mid Umpc Tablet PC
Volcanic lightning and thunder added to the terror on KodiakIsland during the first day of the eruption; static from thecharged particles blown from the volcano made the wireless radiouseless at the naval station in Kodiak. A fire, possibly caused byvolcanic lightning, later destroyed the station. University of Alaska Fairbanks Volcanologist Steve McNuttnoticed the volcano shook with several large earthquakes, as highas a magnitude 5.5, before it erupted. That fit with other datathat showed giant eruptions show their hands with increasedearthquake swarm activity before they occur. “I think it’s unlikelywe’d be blindsided,” McNutt said. Tablet PC Windows 7 Multitouch
When Novarupta-Katmai erupted, the sky was still the exclusiverealm of birds and insects — Alaska was still a decade away fromBen Eielson s first mail flight from Fairbanks to McGrath. Now,the North Pacific is one of the busiest air corridors in the world,with more than 200 flights a day passing over. To calculate theeffects of a modern-day Novarupta-Katmai on today s air travel,British graduate student Rebecca Anne Welchman once used a computermodel called Puff developed by University of Alaska scientists andrefined by Peter Webley of the Geophysical Institute. Herconclusion: Another Novarupta would be bad news. Laptop Cooling Stand
. . An eruptionof Novarupta scale in today s society has the potential to bringthe world to a standstill by affecting the majority of airports inNorth America and Europe for several days at least.