Russian Volcanoes on the Ring of Fire

Updated on October 2, 2019
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Science has always fascinated me. This includes not only the ecological sciences, which I studied in school, but other endeavors, as well.

When a volcano is silent for a long time, its first explosion can be catastrophic

Professor Ivan Koulakov

Russian Volcanoes

The Russian harbor of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky as seen from Avacha Bay. Snow-capped Mount Koryasky rises spectacularly in the background. This active volcano last erupted in 2009
The Russian harbor of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky as seen from Avacha Bay. Snow-capped Mount Koryasky rises spectacularly in the background. This active volcano last erupted in 2009 | Source

The What and the Where

The Bolshaya Udina volcano can be found on the Kamchatka Peninsula, a long finger of land that extends southward from Siberia towards the northernmost islands of Japan.

Overall, the wild and beautiful peninsula contains 160 volcanoes. Twenty-nine of these are active and six of the active ones are recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. The tallest of the active volcanoes is called Klyuchevskaya Sopka, which stands at over 15,000 feet.

Most recently, a dormant volcano, called Bolshaya Udina, has been showing so much underground activity that some scientists think the volcano can now be listed as active.

A Remote Volcano

The Udina Bolshaya volcano in Eastern Russia has suddenly become active again.
The Udina Bolshaya volcano in Eastern Russia has suddenly become active again.

No Longer Extinct?

Up until 2017, the Udina Bolshaya volcano had been considered by almost every earth scientist, who even knew of its existence and remote location, to be extinct. Then in December of 2017, the earthquakes at the base of the volcano commenced. Though light in intensity, they have been rather frequent with over 500 recorded in 2018.

Since 2018, Russian scientists have placed more seismic sensors closer to the mountain. And what they have found is startling. Bolshaya Udina is becoming more active by the year with a 4.3 earthquake recorded just this year (2019). Strangely enough a large eruption may pose greater threats to distant lands than to places situated adjacent to the 10,000 foot mountain.

The reasons here are twofold. First, the mountain is so remote that even a large eruption would only threaten a few remote villagers. But if this mountain were to release a large ash cloud, the climatic effects could possibly be felt across North America and even further around the globe.

The Bezymianny Volcano

The Bezymianny volcano erupted in 1956 after a long period of dormancy.
The Bezymianny volcano erupted in 1956 after a long period of dormancy.

This Has Happened Before

The Bezymianny volcano, which is also located on the very same Kamchatka Peninsula has a fascinating eruption history that could turn out to be very similar to what is currently being witnessed at Bolshaya Udina. Back in the early 50s this 10,000 foot peak was believed to be extinct.

Then a strange thing happened. Seismic activity was recorded beneath the snow-capped peak. The year was 1955 and for most of that time period, there were many rumblings and grumblings underneath the mountain until in March 1956, the mountain exploded at the summit. The resulting lateral blast was very similar to what happened at Mt. Ste. Helens, but due to Bezymianny's remote location, no casualties were recorded. Ash clouds were also sent skyward, but they were not large enough to be felt outside the immediate region.

Since then the mountain has remained active, producing several eruptions at the summit since 1956.

The Ring of Fire

Not surprisingly the Kamchatka Peninsula is considered an integral part of the infamous "Ring of Fire". It's location between the Pacific Ocean and the Okhotsk Sea, makes the peninsula susceptible to tectonic plate movements.

In Kamchatka, all the active volcanoes can be found in a distinct "Zone of Subduction", a small band of land near the Pacific Ocean, where the Pacific tectonic plate is forced underneath the Siberian tectonic plate.

But Will It Erupt?

Even though seismic activity around Udina Bolshaya has dramatically increased in last couple of years, this is no guarantee that the big mountain will explode any time soon. The news of a possible eruption was first reported in July of this year (2019) in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research by a group of Russian scientists.

Considering the overwhelming seismic evidence, there is little doubt that the evidence should have been published in a respectable journal. On the other hand, there are so many variables here, that the certainty of a future explosion should not be taken as a forgone conclusion. Perhaps the best guess is that Bolshaya Udina might behave like its geologic cousin, Bezymianny.

Udina Bolshaya and the Press

A volcanic eruption is often newsworthy, even when the geological event occurs in an under-populated place, thousands of miles away. This is exactly what has happened recently, as the press has gotten wind of what the scientists are just now learning about this fascinating volcano.

Not surprisingly, the headlines are more predictable than the volcano with tabloids like Daily Express and The Sun taking a more alarmist approach to the story, while scientific journals such as Science News being more cautious in their approach to the story.

A Spectacular Russian Volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula

Because of its primal beauty, the Kronotsky Volcano in Eastern Russia is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site
Because of its primal beauty, the Kronotsky Volcano in Eastern Russia is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site | Source

Kamchatka (Russia's Land of Volcanoes) by Drone

Pertopovlovsk, Capitol of Kamchatsky

Petropovlowsk is the capitol of the Kamatcha region of Russia. Here it is seen with Mount Koryaksky in the background
Petropovlowsk is the capitol of the Kamatcha region of Russia. Here it is seen with Mount Koryaksky in the background | Source

The Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences)

One of the world's first scientific institutes, devoted solely to the study of volcanoes is located in Kamatcha's capitol city of Petropavlowsk. Established in 1906, the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, which is part of the Far Eastern branch of Russian Academy of Sciences, is one of the oldest schools on the planet dedicated to the study of volcanoes. Located just a few miles away from the many active volcanoes of Kamatchsky, this scientific institute has its hands full, studying the numerous volcanoes that exist nearby on the peninsula.

For years this academic school has nurtured earth scientists, who have studied the neighboring active volcanoes, to further understand the unpredictable behavior of one of Nature's most fascinating natural phenomena.

Further References

For a more in depth look at Kamchatka volcanoes, viewers might want to visit this video link.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Harry Nielsen

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