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Augustine is new Internet hot spot

Want to peer into the steaming summit of an erupting volcano without risking death? Anyone with an Internet connection and a computer can do just that.

india Updated: Mar 20, 2006 11:48 IST
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Want to peer into the steaming summit of an erupting volcano without risking death? 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 office.

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 volcano.

“The Web has really revolutionised 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 North Dakota. Augustine Volcano, on an uninhabited island about 280 km 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 ash puffs. For scientists, Augustine provides a near-perfect combination of factors.

It is close to population centres, but not so close that it poses any serious risks. Its flanks and summit are dotted with more monitoring instruments than perhaps any US 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 US Geological Survey geologist who works at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.