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Tanaga, Aleutian volcano, begins to quake

The Ring of Fire is really heating up these days. For any readers on the West Coast, I would definitely be interested in earthquakes that are happening near volcanoes. Imagine a 9.0 or bigger quake near Mt. St. Helens? Can you imagine a 500 foot wave crashing into the Puget Sound? Horrifying, yes, but entirely plausible and more than likely to occur in the near future.

Aleutian volcano begins to quake

A sleepy volcano in the western Aleutian Islands began stirring this month, trembling with tiny earthquakes six to 12 miles underground, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

The swarm beneath 5,925-foot Tanaga marks the first sign of unrest since the observatory wired the rugged cone with its own network of sensors two years ago, said volcanologist Rick Wessels of the U.S. Geological Survey. The volcano was last known to erupt in 1914.

Like other Aleutian Arc volcanoes, Tanaga gapes beneath one of the world's busiest airline routes, with dozens of flights jetting between North America and Asia there every day. Volcanic ash blasted five to six miles into the sky can damage or shut down jet engines, so the observatory listens and watches for eruptions around the clock.

Most Aleutian volcanoes produce tiny quakes every day, but Tanaga had been remarkably quiet for reasons that remain unclear, Wessels said.

"It had one reasonably measurable event every month or so, and now it's gone to several per hour," he said.

Tanaga rises steeply on its own uninhabited island, 63 miles from the nearest community in Adak and more than 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage. It's one of 28 volcanoes monitored by the observatory for seismic action, hot spots and smoky plumes -- including the 11,070-foot Mount Spurr that looms on the horizon 80 miles due west of Anchorage.

Spurr, which last dusted Anchorage with ash during its 1992 eruption, continued to gurgle with its own quake swarm this week and remained under a restless "yellow" alert.