By Yereth Rosen
Want to peer into the steaming summit of an erupting volcano without
Anyone with an Internet connection and a computer can do just that,
thanks to about 30 cameras and other recording devices set up on
Alaska's Augustine Volcano that are streaming information to a Web
site hosted by the Alaska Volcano Observatory, a joint federal-state
The site http://www.avo.alaska.edu/activity/Augustine.php has received
over 253 million hits since the start of the year, becoming a popular
destination for everyone from scientists to amateur volcano buffs who
want to keep tabs on the restless 4,134-foot (1,260-meter) volcano.
"The Web has really revolutionized information dissemination and
consequently the level of interest and knowledge of the public," said
Shan de Silva, a volcanologist and professor at the University of
Augustine Volcano, on an uninhabited island about 175 miles southwest
of Anchorage, roared to life on January 11 with an explosion that shot
ash miles into the air. It sits under a major air travel route between
Asia and North America.
The volcano has remained active since then with a series of
ash-producing explosions but has settled into a period of
less-dramatic lava burbling, dome building and occasional small ash
For scientists, Augustine provides a near-perfect combination of factors.
It is close to population centers, but not so close that it poses any
serious risks. Its flanks and summit are dotted with more monitoring
instruments than perhaps any U.S. volcano except Mt. St. Helens in
Washington and Mauna Loa in Hawaii.
"It's a new way of monitoring volcanoes now, but this is going to be
kind of the standard way of doing it," said Chris Waythomas, a
U.S. Geological Survey geologist who works at the Alaska Volcano
CHOCK FULL OF INFORMATION
The plethora of seismic information flowing out of the volcano
provided scientists with plenty of warning about what was going to
happen well before the initial January eruption.
"It happened a little sooner than we thought, but we weren't surprised
that it happened," said Waythomas.
There are real-time photographic images, seismic graphs, data from
thermal sensors, satellite images and photographs taken by scientists
who fly over the peak at least a couple times a week and occasionally
land on it -- all displayed on the observatory's Web page.
The most popular features on the site are images from a Web camera
perched on the volcano's east side and other photographs, said
The only nagging problems have been periodic buildups of ice and snow
on the camera's lens and bad weather that sometimes limits
For scientists, the detailed images provide a bounty of information
about this extended eruptive phase to help study the nature of the
magma rising out of Augustine and the incremental changes to the
volcano's summit dome.
Among the site's fans are middle school students in Homer, a coastal
town across the inlet from Augustine.
Students know the volcano well from their western skyline, yet they
have been glued to the computer, said Suzanne Haines, a Homer Middle
School geography and history teacher who has incorporated Augustine
information into her lessons.
"It's such an amazing resource because the science is fairly easy to
understand on the Web site," said Haines, noting that students are so
interested due to the volcano's proximity. "It's not something that's
(Additional reporting by Daisuke Wakabayashi in Seattle)
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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