Warning to pilots over Russian ash-clouds

Two volcanoes have erupted on Russia’s far-eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, tossing massive ash clouds miles into the air, forcing flights to divert and blanketing one town with thick, heavy ash.

The Klyuchevskaya Sopka, Eurasia’s highest active volcano, exploded yesterday along with the Shiveluch volcano, 45 miles to the north east, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry’s branch in Kamchatka said, adding that flights in the area had to change course.

Ash clouds from the remote volcanoes billowed up to 33,000ft and were spreading east across the Pacific Ocean, vulcanologist Sergei Senyukov told Rossiya 24 television. Streams of lava flowed down the slopes of Shiveluch.

The US Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice to pilots that they should remain alert for possible ash clouds, saying emissions have “intermittently complicated air travel” in the area of the Kamchatkan Peninsula.

“Any air carriers, including foreign air carriers, that observe or experience any difficulties resulting from an encounter with volcanic ash, please notify air traffic control immediately,” the notice said.

Several pilots reported seeing ash clouds in the Alaskan region, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said. However, the ash has been below 25,000ft, while planes are assigned altitudes above that level so there was no difficulty, she said.

So far FAA has not issued any flight restrictions due to ash, she said.

The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in Tokyo issued an advisory for planes to be alert for the ash cloud, although Tokyo’s Narita airport said it had no flights diverted yet.

Volcanic ash blanketed the nearby town of Ust-Kamchatsk, reducing visibility to only a few feet and turning buildings ghostly white. Emergency officials said the town’s 5,000 residents were not in any immediate danger but urged them to stay indoors and tightly close doors and windows to avoid inhaling ash particles that could lead to respiratory illnesses and allergic reactions.

Schools and businesses in Ust-Kamchatsk quickly closed and all streets were shut down to traffic.

Scientists warned that ashes would probably continue falling on the area for at least 10 days.

Ust-Kamchatsk is 45 miles east of Shiveluch and 75 miles north east of Klyuchevskaya Sopka, and winds blew ash from both on the town.

Shiveluch quietened down later, but Klyuchevskaya Sopka, which stands 15,584ft high, kept erupting, Russian officials said.

Jen Burke, a meteorologist with the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit, said ash from the Shiveluch eruption – the larger of the two – was moving across the Bering Sea at a height of 25,000 feet. That could put it in the path of planes flying between Asia and North America over Alaska.

“Right now it’s not a difficult area to avoid because it’s north of the Aleutian Islands,” Ms Burke said. “Planes could fly south of the Aleutian Islands and be perfectly safe.”

She said ash might affect the extreme west coast of Alaska but winds were predicted to push the cloud north.

Kamchatka, which juts into the Pacific, is studded with active volcanoes.

The Emergency Situations Ministry warned yesterday that another volcano across the peninsula to the south, Gorely, had begun spewing gases and could erupt at any moment. Gorely is about 45 miles south of Kamchatka’s regional capital, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

Kamchatka volcanoes are part of the “Ring of Fire” string of volcanoes encircling the Pacific.

The Russian eruptions were not related to Tuesday’s eruption of the Mount Merapi volcano in Indonesia that killed 33, said Lee Siebert, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Programme.

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