Friday, June 12, 2015

The volcano rock stars of Kamchatka, Russia

- Janine
I am pretty excited this week. Next week I am flying back to Kamchatka (Russia) for field work. I get to join a team of Russian scientists to look at deposits on Tolbachik volcano which produced a beautiful flank fissure eruption over 9 months, starting November 2012.

Tolbachik erupting on 22 December, 2012. Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.
A common reaction I get when I say I am studying a Russian volcano is some variation of "there are volcanoes in Russia?".

Yes. Yes there are. And they are amazing!

So first off, Kamchatka is the eastern-most peninsula off Russia which sits on top of a subduction zone. Here the Pacific plate moves westward underneath Kamchatka - hence all the volcanic activity.

Here, the Map of Active Volcanoes in Kamchatka and Northern Kuriles shows the current activity levels using the aviation color codes.
Map of active volcanoes of Kamchatka and Northern Kuriles. Note the subduction zone to the east shown by the Kurile-Kamchatka trench. Courtesy of the KVERT website, link given above.
 Alert Levels can slightly vary in different countries, below is the explanation of the Russian aviation color codes. The current elevated Alert Levels can be seen here.


Here is a screenshot of the KVERT Current Activity of the Volcanoes page showing a good selection of 36 of their volcanoes.
36 of Kamchatka's volcanoes. Date corresponds to last updated image.

It is not uncommon to have a few of the volcanoes erupting at the same time. This NASA Earth Observatory satellite image acquired on 2nd April, 2010, shows Karymsky, Bezymianny, Klyuchevskoy, and Shiveluch all in eruption.

NASA Earth Observatory MODIS satellite image of Karymsky, Bezymianny, Klyuchevskoy, and Shiveluch volcanoes on 2nd April, 2010.

Here are a few of the more famous active (or recently active) volcanoes.

If I was going to pick a personal favorite I would have to go with Shiveluch, the northernmost active volcano. Shiveluch produces regular ash plumes and large pyroclastic flows from the active dome that deposit on top of the 1964 debris avalanche deposit - think of the Mount Saint Helens collapse without the lateral blast. Shiveluch is currently undergoing explosive/extrusive dome building activity and is on Orange Alert.

Eruption of Shiveluch on 24th February, 2015. Photo by Yu. Demyanchuk.

Sitting just south of Shiveluch is the Klyuchevskaya group. Klyuchevskoy is one of the Kamchatkan superstar volcanoes, producing long, narrow lava flows and frequent ash emission. Klyuchevskoy is currently on Yellow Alert with gas/steam emissions.

Bezymianny, Kamen, and Klyuchevskoy volcanoes on 15th February 2015. Photo courtesy of volkstat.ru.

Klyuchevskoy volcano on 1st January, 2015. Photo by Yu. Demyanchuk.
Bezymianny gets a bit of attention and is also part of the Klyuchevskaya group. In 1956 Bezymianny produced a similar eruption to that of Mount Saint Helens in 1980, and was one of the reasons why there was concern for a lateral-blast-type eruption. Fun fact - before Bezymianny woke up in 1955 it was largely ignored, which is why Bezymianny is called "no name" in Russian. Bezymianny is currently on Yellow Alert with 'weak activity' continuing.

Eruption of Bezymianny on 1st September, 2012. Photo by Yu. Demyanchuk.

Kizimen is compared a lot to the pre-1980 Mount Saint Helens, with the beautiful classic volcano shape. Kizimen was active from 2010 to 2013 with ash plumes, pyroclastic flows, and lava flows. Kizimen is currently on Green Alert.

Kizimen volcano steaming on 9th February, 2013. Photo by Alexander, Bichenko.
Last year I went on the University of Alaska International Volcanology Field School trip which took me to the active Karymsky volcano (which of course didn't even produce a puff of ash while I was there). Karymsky had a larger eruption in 1996, producing lava flows from volcano (below), and a phreatomagmatic eruption (water + magma = explosion!) in the Academy Nuak vent 6 km away (see Izbekov et al., 2004 for more information). Karymsky has been puffing away since then and is currently on Orange Alert with moderate eruptive activity and the possibility of ash eruptions at any time.

Karymsky volcano, note the thick lava flows.

Any trip in Kamchatka begins in Petropavlovsk, the city of Kamchatka, which has beautiful views of Avachinsky and Gorely volcanoes - both on Green Alert (which I hope to see without cloud cover next week!)

The helicopter trip to the field site - well back from the field site since the way there was complete cloud cover - took us past volcano after big, beautiful volcano.

Zhupanovsky was lightly puffing away. Zhupanovsky is currently on Orange Alert with moderate activity continuing, and ash explosions possible at any time.
Plume from Zhupanovsky volcano.
Closer view of Zhupanovsky volcano.
And we got a pretty amazing view of Avachinsky (left) and Koryaksky (right).

Avachinsky (left) and Koryaksky (right).
There are plenty more volcanoes in Kamchatka due to the position in the ring of fire, situated between Alaska and Japan - both of which have their own long list of volcanoes. You can keep an eye on the current activity through the webcams provided by the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology here. May more photos of the volcanoes and their activity (including most of the images above) can be found here.

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