Feb 17, 2011
This is nothing new; the 29 volcanoes of Kamchatka’s mountainous spine—10 percent of the world’s active volcanoes—have erupted prodigiously and often for at least the last two million years.
Since October, three of them have been seriously erupting, spewing ash 32,000 feet into the sky and devastating their surroundings with earthquakes, lava flows, mudslides, and pyroclastic catastrophe. Shown here is last week’s eruption of Shiveluch, the northernmost of the currently active volcanoes. This picture is thermal imagery from satellite sensors; the hottest areas are shown as white, with progressively less hot regions appearing as gradations of yellow through orange to red.
Shiveluch had a lava dome near its peak—a rocky bulge inflated by molten magma underground. This thermal image tells us that the dome has now burst; the white splotch at the mountain peak shows extremely hot lava exposed at the surface. The rock that used to overlie the lava dome would have been pulverized in the eruption and sent skyward as ash or down the mountainside as a pyroclastic flow, a fiery nightmare of lava, ash, rock, mud, and poisonous gases.
The image also shows a large pool of hot lava that has collected at the bottom of the mountain, beginning to cool off around the edges. Undoubtedly, forest land in this valley has been devastated, but because the Shiveluch region is virtually uninhabited, damage associated with human activity is expected to be very low.
However, planes traveling between Alaska and Korea or Japan often fly just east of Kamchatka. The dust plumes from Shiveluch and the other two currently active volcanoes have sometimes been large enough to pose a potential risk to aviation.
This video from last October, when the level of activity was not yet as intense, shows both the ash clouds rising and the lava descending from Shiveluch: