New Insights into the 1999 Eruptions of Shishaldin Volcano Based on Acoustic Data

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Data collected by a pressure sensor provide new insights into the 1999 eruption of Shishaldin volcano, Unimak Island, Alaska. On 19 April 1999, after 3 months of unrest and an extended period of low-level Strombolian activity, Shishaldin experienced a Subplinian eruption (ash plume to >16 km), followed by several episodes of strong Strombolian explosions. Acoustic data from the pressure sensor allow us to investigate the details of an eruption which was instrumentally well recorded, but with few visual observations. In the 12 h prior to the Subplinian phase, the pressure sensor detected a series of small, repeated pulses with a constant spectral peak at 2–3 Hz. The amplitude and occurrence rate of the pulses both grew such that the signal became a nearly continuous hum just before the Subplinian eruption. This humming signal may represent gas release from rising magma. The main Subplinian phase was heralded by (1) the abrupt end of the humming signal, (2) several pulses of low-frequency sound interpreted as ash bursts, and (3) a dramatic increase in seismic tremor amplitude. The change in acoustic signature at this time allows us to precisely time the start of the Subplinian eruption, previously approximated as the time of strongest tremor increase. The 50-min Subplinian phase actually contained several bursts of signal, each of which may represent a discrete volume of magma passing through the system. Following the Subplinian event, the pressure sensor recorded four discrete episodes of Strombolian gas explosions on 19–20 April and another on 22–23 April. Four of the five episodes were accompanied by strong seismic tremor; the fifth has not been previously recognized and was not associated with anomalous tremor amplitudes. In time series these events are similar to explosions recorded at other volcanoes but in general they are much larger, with maximum amplitudes of >65 Pa at 6.5 km from the vent, and they have low (0.7–1.5 Hz) peak frequencies. These large explosions occurred at rates of 3–20 per minute for 1–5 h in each episode. The explosions were accompanied by a small (<5 km above sea level) ash plume and only minor amounts of ejecta were produced. Thus, the explosion activity was dominated by gas release.

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Bulletin of Volcanology, v. 65, issue 6, p. 405-417