Today we travel to the “Land of Stone Torches” — Kamchatka, in the Russian Far East, where plate tectonics shapes and reshapes what is perhaps the most beautiful peninsula in the world.
It is a volcanophile’s living dream, too.
With well over a hundred fire mountains to choose from, why did they choose Avachinsky and Koryaksky, in central Kamchatka, for the Decade Volcano program?
- The two volcanoes stand close together, towering over nearby Kamchatka’s biggest city, Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky, some 20 miles away — a large population is at risk here.
- Both volcanoes have a history of violence. Each has had multiple explosive eruptions, some causing ash fall hundreds of miles away. Lahars (mudflows) from Koryaksky have reached the sea, while Avachinsky’s southwest flank collapsed during the last ice age. Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky is built atop this old flow.
- They are accessible. Indeed, Avachinsky is so easy to climb that thousands of people make a mass ascent every year. The following video from 2019 wasn’t made on that particular day, but it certainly is exhilarating!
That’s Koryaksky in the background. The grill-like stuff filling the crater is a plug of lava left over from Avachinsky’s 1991 eruption.
This is one of Kamchatka’s most active volcanoes. Its crater looked very different in this Soviet-era film, released in 1979!
That descent and the views from inside Avachinsky are some of the most amazing volcanologist footage I’ve ever seen.
Of note, Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky had strategic importance during the Cold War, and the Soviet Government only opened it up in 1990 — the Decade Volcano era.
Koryaksky Volcano is a little older than its neighbor and has its own magma chamber. (Bushenkova et al.)
It is also taller and very eroded.
Here is a very Russian video of a climb up Koryaksky in 2017. It’s in Russian, but the story is a visual one, the views are spectacular, and along the way we see evidence of a big mudflow/lahar — I couldn’t find any information online about that, but it looks fairly recent.
Avachinsky: 53.256° N, 158.836° E. Koryaksky: 53.321° N, 158.712° E. Avachinsky’s GVP Volcano Number is 300100, Koryaksky’s is 300090.
- Within 5 km (3 miles): 0; 0
- Within 10 km (6 miles): 0; 13
- Within 30 km (19 miles): 180,016; 142,050
- Within 100 km (62 miles): 270,205; 257,322
Both are quiet, Aviation Code Green.
- Eruption styles: Explosive eruptions, lava extrusion, pyroclastic flows, lahars, flank collapse.
- Biggest recorded event: This was the big sector collapse at Avachinsky 30,000 to 40,000 years ago. There are also a number of VEI 4’s and 5’s (Mount St. Helens 1980 sized) in Avachinsky’s history. The Global Volcanism Program reports that Koryaksky has not had very large eruptions in the past 10,000 years or so, but it did have a VEI 3 event in 1956.
- Most recent eruption: Avachinsky, 2001; Koryaksky, 2009.
- Past history: See the GVP history for Avachinsky and Koryaksky.
Of note, surviving members of Captain Cook’s last expedition arrived at Petropavlosk just in time to witness and describe a VEI 3 eruption at Avachinsky (called “Paul” at that link) on June 15, 1779.
Featured image: Koryaksky Volcano from Yelizovo International Airport, by Alexander Mishin via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Bushenkova, N.; Koulakov, I.; Senyukov, S.; Gordeev, E. I.; and others. 2019. Tomographic images of magma chambers beneath the Avacha and Koryaksky volcanoes in Kamchatka. (Abstract and first page only) Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 124(9): 9694-9713.
Global Volcanism Program, 2009. Report on Koryaksky (Russia) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 34:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200903-300090. https://volcano.si.edu/showreport.cfm?doi=10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200903-300090 Last accessed May 30, 2020.
Global Volcanism Program, 2010. Report on Avachinsky (Russia) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 35:8. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN201008-300100.
Kamchatka Volcanoes. n.d. Koriaksky. http://www.kscnet.ru/ivs/volcanoes/holocene/main/textpage/koriaksky.htm Last accessed May 30, 2020.
___. n.d. Avachinsky. http://www.kscnet.ru/ivs/volcanoes/holocene/main/main.htm Last accessed May 30, 2020.
Newhall, C. 1996. IAVCEI/International Council of Scientific Union’s Decade Volcano projects: Reducing volcanic disaster. status report. US Geological Survey, Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20041115133227/http://www.iavcei.org/decade.htm
Wikipedia. 2020. Koryaksky. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koryaksky Last accessed May 30, 2020.
___. 2020. Avachinsky. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avachinsky. Last accessed May 30, 2020.
Wikipedia (Russian, via Google Translate). 2020. Avachinskaya Group/Kamchatka Volcanoes. https://ru.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Вулканы_Камчатки#Авачинско-Корякская_группа Last accessed May 30, 2020.
___. 2019. Avachinskaya Volcano. https://ru.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Авачинская_Сопка Last accessed May 30, 2020.
___. 2020. Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky. https://ru.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Петропавловск-Камчатский Last accessed May 30, 2020.