Scientists to study rebirth of an island after volcanic eruption

A team of scientists is all set to study an island in the process of rebirth after a volcanic eruption destroyed life on it recently.

Updated: Aug 10, 2009, 15:45 PM IST

Washington: A team of scientists is all set to study an island in the process of rebirth after a volcanic eruption destroyed life on it recently.
When Alaska’s Kasatochi Volcano erupted on August 7, 2008, it virtually sterilised Kasatochi Island, covering the small Aleutian island with a layer of ash and other volcanic material several meters thick.

The eruption also provided a rare research opportunity: the chance to see how an ecosystem develops from the very first species to colonise the island.

Now, a team of researchers organised by the US Geological Survey and the US Fish and Wildlife Service is all set to visit Kasatochi to look for signs of life on the island, almost exactly one year after the catastrophic eruption.

The interdisciplinary research team will spend four days (August 10-13) surveying the island, using the USFWS research vessel Tiglax as an operational base for the on-site research.

“Since volcanism plays such a big role in shaping the Aleutians, we hope to end up with a better understanding of how disturbances such as volcanic eruptions shape the ecology of these islands,” said Tony DeGange, a USGS biologist and one of the research team coordinators.

“There hasn’t been a study quite like this done in Alaska where scientists are taking such a comprehensive ecological view of the impact of an eruption and its resulting response and recovery,” he added.

Researchers expect that insects and birds will be the first animal species that recolonise the island.

In preparation for the August survey, biologists set up monitoring and sampling equipment on Kasatochi earlier this summer, including insect traps for Derek Sikes, curator of insects at the University of Alaska Museum of the North.

“Work in similar systems shows that flying- and wind-borne insects and spiders form a fairly constant rain during the summer months,” said Sikes, adding that some of these species survive by preying or scavenging on other arthropods.

“We’ll be looking for spiders, which are all predators, and ground beetles, which are mostly predators, as well as other species associated with bird droppings or vertebrate carrion,” he added.

According to the USFWS, the Kasatochi study is unique in that it takes place in an isolated marine ecosystem for which there are pre-eruption ecological data for the island and its nearby marine waters, including data from the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge dating from the mid-1990s and from Sikes’ 2008 field work on the island.