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1912 Novarupta volcanic eruption

Novarupta, meaning “newly erupted” in Latin, is a volcano located on the Alaska Peninsula, about 470 km southwest of Anchorage. It was the most powerful volcanic eruption of the 20th century, yet very few people knew about it.

In 1912, the Alaskan Peninsula was very sparsely populated and it was not even a US state. Very few scientists were supported to do volcanic studies and a worldwide network of seismic monitoring was not in place. Beyond the earthquake activity, the beginning of the event was almost unnoticed.

On June 6th, 1912 a tremendous blast sent a large cloud of ash skyward and for the next 60 hours the eruption sent tall dark columns of tephra and gas high into the atmosphere. By the time the eruption ended the surrounding land was devastated, and about 30 cubic kilometers of ejecta blanketed the entire region. This is three times more than the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, the second largest in the 20th century. The inhabitants of Kodiak, about 170 km away, were among the first people to realize the severity of the eruption. Within just a few hours after the eruption a thick blanket of ash began falling upon the town and ash continued falling for the next 3 days, covering the town up to one foot deep. Despite the magnitude of the eruption, no deaths directly resulted from it, and it had a subdued impact on global climate with only some cooler temperature in the northern hemisphere, likely due to the timing and location of the eruption.

The first scientific investigation in 1916 convinced that Mt. Katmai was the source of the eruption. It was the 1950s’ investigators, over forty years after the eruption that finally realized that Novarupta, and not Katmai was the volcano responsible for the eruption. (Floro Mercene)