Kamchatka Volcanoes: Kamen and Tolbachik

While the Russian people find ways, hopefully, around their new “iron curtain,” I’m continuing my own little ‘stone torch’ program with part of a post from 2020. I’ve split it up for clarity and to highlight the individual volcanoes.

Klyuchevskoy Volcano, which we’ll meet next week, is famous.

Its height of almost 16,000 feet makes Klyuchevskoy the highest active volcano in Eurasia. Add in a likely 20-mile-long magma “pipe,” and you’ve got a truly remarkable volcanic system.

But there’s a second giant in the neighborhood. It stands alongside Kluychevskoy, just three miles away and only a few hundred feet shorter.

This other stratovolcano’s heart is cold, and it is slowly, majestically disintegrating.

In fact, it is our friend Kamen, whose “death” amid mysterious circumstances we mentioned last time.

Doppelgangers. I’m not sure of the camera angle, but that’s probably Kamen Volcano on the left; if so, then little Bezymianny– rising on Kamen’s southern slope just as Klyuchevskoy rises on Kamen’s north slope — should be somewhere under that long cloud. (Image: Artyom Bezotechestvo/Shutterstock)

According to circumstantial evidence, the identity of Kamen’s “murderer” is a surprise: it’s Bezymianny!

Lavas from the two giants Kamen and Klyuchevskoy, while both rather mantle-like, have different geochemistry. (Churikova et al., 2012, 2013)

And Kamen appears to have “died” about 11,000 years ago, while Klyuchevskoy is only 6,000 to 7,000 years old.

How did the little guy knock off the giant?

While Bezymianny is the only volcano in this group to erupt a silicate-rich material called andesite (Kayzar et al.), its lava has other important characteristics almost identical to Kamen’s.

It seems that Bezymianny has taken over at least part of Kamen’s old plumbing system (Churikova et al., 2012, 2013; Thelen et al.), leaving Kamen to die of starvation.

Another sign of this deadly connection might be ongoing seismicity between Bezymianny and Kamen. (Thelen et al.)


Kamen hasn’t had any eruptions recently, per the Global Volcanism Program.

During its youth, Kamen blew its top many times, building up a cone of thick pyroclastic deposits. Then came the “runny” lava flows, covering that cone with a thin veneer of basalt — in active volcanoes like Klyuchevskoy and Shiveluch, this phase continues today. (Churikova et al., 2012)

Most recently Kamen has had a sector collapse, several thousand years ago, that was big enough to cut the volcano almost in two, giving geologists literally inside information on this stratovolcanic giant. (Churikova et al., 2012)

You might want to mute the audio on this video of a spectacular visit by air to the volcano:

Kamen volcano, up close and personal. (Note Kamen’s “twin,” Klyuchevskoy, in a few shots.)


Adding to the mystery here is another nearby volcano, called Tolbachik, which apparently thinks it is in Hawaii.

Tolbachik is not in Hawaii.

All of this — two unrelated giants, standing almost side by side; a little volcano, more than half a mile shorter than the giants, with an explosive temper (Bezymianny); a Hawaiian-style fissure volcano (Tolbachik) — and much, much more, in a relatively tiny (30 x 50 mile) chunk of coastal Siberia!

What’s going on?

Nature is usually more orderly than that.

A case in point: part of the High Cascades in the Pacific Northwest. (Image: Strychnine, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Volcanologists still have more questions than answers about the Klyuchevskoy volcano group.

Perhaps we will get a better understanding when we visit the group’s namesake next week.

Featured image: Tolbachik, sharp (on left) and flat (on right), by kuhnmi via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.O.


Some of these sites are in Russian and were translated by the browser.

Active Volcanoes of Kamchatka. n.d. Klyuchevskoy. http://geoportal.kscnet.ru/volcanoes/volc.php?ln=vid&name=Klyuchevskoy Last accessed October 1, 2020.

Belousov, A.; Voight, B.; Belousova, M.; and Petukhin, A. 2002. Pyroclastic surges and flows from the 8–10 May 1997 explosive eruption of Bezymianny volcano, Kamchatka, Russia. Bulletin of Volcanology, 64(7): 455-471.

Bogoyavlenskaya, G. E.; Braitseva, O. A.; Melekestsev, I. V.; Kiriyanov, V. Y.; and Miller, C. D. 1985. Catastrophic eruptions of the directed-blast type at Mount St. Helens, Bezymianny and Shiveluch volcanoes. Journal of Geodynamics, 3(3-4): 189-218.

Brown, S.K.; Jenkins, S.F.; Sparks, R.S.J.; Odbert, H.; and Auker, M. R. 2017. Volcanic fatalities database: analysis of volcanic threat with distance and victim classification. Journal of Applied Volcanology, 6: 15.

Churikova, T. G.; Gordeichik, B. N.; and Ivanov, B. V. 2012. Petrochemistry of Kamen volcano: A comparison with neighboring volcanoes of the Klyuchevskoy group. Journal of Volcanology and Seismology, 6(3): 150-171.

Churikova, T. G.; Gordeychik, B. N.; Ivanov, B. V.; and Wörner, G. 2013. Relationship between Kamen Volcano and the Klyuchevskaya group of volcanoes (Kamchatka). Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 263: 3-21.

Global Volcanism Program. 2020. Kamen https://volcano.si.edu/volcano.cfm?vn=300251
Last accessed September 15, 2020.

Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT). 2020. Klyuchevskoy. http://www.kscnet.ru/ivs/kvert/volc.php?name=Klyuchevskoy&lang=en Last accessed October 1, 2020.

Kayzar, T. M.; Nelson, B. K.; Bachmann, O.; Bauer, A. M.; and Izbekov, P. E. 2014. Deciphering petrogenic processes using Pb isotope ratios from time-series samples at Bezymianny and Klyuchevskoy volcanoes, Central Kamchatka. Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology, 168(4): 1067.

Khubunaya, S. A.; Gontovaya, L. I.; Sobolev, A. V.; and Nizkous, I. V. 2007. Magma chambers beneath the Klyuchevskoy volcanic group (Kamchatka). Journal of Volcanology and Seismology, 1(2): 98.

Koulakov, I.; Abkadyrov, I.; Al Arifi, N.; Deev, E.; and others. 2017. Three different types of plumbing system beneath the neighboring active volcanoes of Tolbachik, Bezymianny, and Klyuchevskoy in Kamchatka. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 122(5): 3852-3874.

Oregon State University: Volcano World. 2020. Bezymianny. http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/bezymianny Last accessed September 15, 2020.

Photovolcanica. n.d. Kliuchevskoi. http://www.photovolcanica.com/VolcanoInfo/Kliuchevskoi/Kliuchevskoi.html Last accessed October 1, 2020.

Ponomareva, V. V.; Melekestsev, I. V.; and Dirksen, O. V. 2006. Sector collapses and large landslides on Late Pleistocene–Holocene volcanoes in Kamchatka, Russia. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 158(1-2): 117-138.

Ponomareva, V. V.; Churikova, T.; Melekestsev, I. V.; Braitseva, O. A.; and others. 2007. Late Pleistocene-Holocene volcanism on the Kamchatka Peninsula, northwest Pacific region. http://repo.kscnet.ru/1039/1/Ponomareva%202007.pdf

Shapiro, N. M.; Sens-Schonfelder, C.; Luhr, B. G.; Weber, M.; and others. 2017. Understanding Kamchatka’s extraordinary volcano cluster. https://eos.org/science-updates/understanding-kamchatkas-extraordinary-volcano-cluster Last accessed September 15, 2020.

Shevchenko, A. V.; Dvigalo, V. N.; Walter, T. R.; Mania, R.; and others. 2020. The rebirth and evolution of Bezymianny volcano, Kamchatka after the 1956 sector collapse. Communications Earth & Environment, 1(1): 1-15.

Sorenko, V. A.; Droznina, V.; Ivanova, P. I.; and others. 2004. Bezymianny, in Active Volcanoes of Kamchatka. http://kcs.dvo.ru/ivs/volcanoes/bezym.html Last accessed September 15, 2020.

Thelen, W.; West, M.; and Senyukov, S. 2010. Seismic characterization of the fall 2007 eruptive sequence at Bezymianny Volcano, Russia. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 194(4): 201-213.

Volcano Discovery. 2020. Klyuchevskoy. https://www.volcanodiscovery.com/klyuchevskoy.html Last accessed October 1, 2020.

Wikipedia. 2020. Klyuchevskaya Sopka. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klyuchevskaya_Sopka Last accessed October 1, 2020.

___. 2020. Tolbachik. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tolbachik Last accessed October 13, 2020.

Wikipedia (Russian). 2020. Klyuchevskaya Sopka. https://ru.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ключевская_Сопка Last accessed October 1, 2020.

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