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Precursory seismicity associated with frequent, large ice avalanches on Iliamna volcano, Alaska, USA

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Since 1994, at least six major (volume >106 m3) ice and rock avalanches have occurred on Iliamna volcano, Alaska, USA. Each of the avalanches was preceded by up to 2 hours of seismicity believed to represent the initial stages of failure. Each seismic sequence begins with a series of repeating earthquakes thought to represent slip on an ice–rock interface, or between layers of ice. This stage is followed by a prolonged period of continuous ground-shaking that reflects constant slip accommodated by deformation at the glacier base. Finally the glacier fails in a large avalanche. Some of the events appear to have entrained large amounts of rock, while others comprise mostly snow and ice. Several avalanches initiated from the same source region, suggesting that this part of the volcano is particularly susceptible to failure, possibly due to the presence of nearby fumaroles. Although thermal conditions at the time of failure are not well constrained, it is likely that geothermal energy causes melting at the glacier base, promoting slip and culminating in failure. The frequent nature and predictable failure sequence of Iliamna avalanches makes the volcano an excellent laboratory for the study of ice avalanches. The prolonged nature of the seismic signal suggests that warning may one day be given for similar events occurring in populated regions.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2007-01-01

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.
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