Volcanoes & Lava Flows
The 15 active volcanoes that line the Shelikof Strait make Katmai National Park and Preserve one of the world's most active volcanic centers today. These Aleutian Range volcanoes are pipelines into the fiery cauldron that underlies Alaska's southern coast and extends down both Pacific Ocean shores--the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire. This Ring of Fire boasts over four times more volcanic eruptions above sea level than any other region in historic times.
Of more than 400 eruptions along the Ring of Fire, nearly 10 percent have occurred in Alaska; less than 2 percent in the rest of North America. The current theory of plate tectonics attributes this phenomenon to the collision of the series of plates that makes up the Earth's crust. The Ring of Fire marks edges where crustal plates bump against each other. Superimposing a map of earthquake activity over a map of active volcanoes creates a massed record of violent earth changes ringing the Pacific Ocean from southern South America around through the Indonesian archipelago.
Major volcanic eruptions have deposited ash throughout the Katmai area at least 10 times during the past 7,000 years. Under the now quiet floor of the expansive Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, and deep beneath the mountains that rise around it, molten rock is still present. The most visible clues are the steam plumes that occasionally rise from Mounts Mageik, Martin, and Trident. These steam plumes show that there is real potential for new eruptions to occur. In fact, Mt. Trident has erupted four times in recent decades, with its last eruptive episode taking place in 1968.
A volcanic eruption capable of bringing major change could occur at any time in this truly dynamic landscape. Since the great 1912 eruption of Novarupta, the massive deposits of volcanic ash and sand that resulted have consolidated into tuff, a type of rock. In the Valley, streams rapidly cut through these ash deposits and formed steep-walled gorges. The thousands of fantastic smoking fumaroles that greeted the scientists who discovered the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes after that powerful eruption have now cooled and ceased their ominous smoking. But the fiery cauldron, whose intense heat and pressure can be forcefully released to alter the landscape in mere hours, still looms close to the surface in the park's portion of the volcanic Aleutian Range.
Active volcanoes within Katmai National Park and Preserve are: Katmai, Novarupta, Trident, Mageik, Martin and Fourpeaked. Holocene volcanoes that have not erupted in the last 250 years are: Cerberus, Falling Mountain, Griggs, Snowy, Dennison, Kukak, Devils Desk, Kaguyak, Douglas, and Kejulik.
The Alaska Volcano Observatory operates 19 monitoring stations within Katmai. For more information please visit: http://www.avo.alaska.edu/. Webcams are available for Mount Katmai and Fourpeaked Mountain.
Did You Know?
The sea otter in the Katmai region and points west (from Cape Douglas to the Aleutian Islands) is a federally-listed threatened species. It is unknown why the sea otter population in this area have declined.