Volcano erupting north of Saipan

May 31, 2010

Governor Fitial declared a "state of emergency" after an underwater volcano near the uninhabited island of Sarigan erupted with a loud explosion on Saturday morning. The island located about 100 miles north of Saipan is only 1.9 square miles in area.

According to Radio Australia the large plume of smoke has affected sea and air traffic and could pose a problem for the tourist industry. AP reported that ash from the underwater volcano shot ash and vapor nearly 8 miles high.

The governor declared a state of emergency and 16 scientists were evacuated for the islands of Sarigan, Alamagan and Pagan.

From the Saipan Tribune
According to EMO, continuing volcanic activity is on-going in the area south of Sarigan, based on seismic activity and visual observations, “presenting a continuing threat of adverse impact in the waters and air space south of Sarigan island.”

Sarigan, an island 175 kilometers (109 miles) north of Saipan, is a stratovolcano with no known historic eruptions. It was used as a copra plantation prior to World War II and is currently uninhabited.

According to the USGS, volcanic activity observed on Thursday, May 27, south of Sarigan Island has increased, and the Guam Weather Forecast Office reported that recent satellite images indicate that the affected area is about twice the size of Sarigan Island.

It quoted an observer from the EMO that overflew and photographed an elongated patch of discolored ocean water and possible light-colored floating debris about 6-7 miles south of Sarigan on Thursday. At that time, the area of discoloration and debris extended over about a mile. Successive satellite images indicate that this is a point-source that has dramatically expanded in breadth. The activity appears to be centered about 6-7 miles south of Sarigan, probably on the southern extension of the submarine ridge upon which Sarigan is constructed.

“Submarine eruptions are not uncommon in the Marianas Islands; mariners in the area should remain alert for floating debris and avoid areas of strongly discolored or disturbed water. Near-sea level eruptions can be dangerous producing ash laden explosions, ash and ballistic fallout, and water waves. AVO maintains no monitoring equipment on these submarine volcanoes and therefore warning of eruptive activity is not possible,” the USGS said.