Wiped clean: Volcano turned fertile island to sterile lump

The surprise eruption of Kasatochi Volcano in the central Aleutians this summer turned a small green island rich with seabirds and ocean mammals into a sterile gray lump, scientists say.

Tens of thousands of fledgling auklets and petrels perished in their rocky nests, as Kasatochi erupted for the first time in centuries, smothering under a deep blanket of ash anything that couldn't flee.

"Probably 20 percent of auklet chicks were still in their crevices and hadn't left," said Jeff Williams, a Homer-based biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "They were most likely entombed."

A couple hundred adult sea lions still encircle the island, but all the year's pups have disappeared, Williams said.

As for the bird habitat?

"It's gone pretty much completely," said Williams, who's spent 18 years observing bird populations on Kasatochi, a tiny island near Atka in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Since its eruption on Aug. 7, Williams and other biologists have returned to examine the damage.

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