October 29, 2010

Twin Volcanoes Erupt In Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula

Twin volcanoes on Russia's far-eastern Kamchatka Peninsula erupted on Thursday, pumping massive ash clouds miles into the air, diverting flights and covering nearby towns in thick, heavy ash.

The Klyuchevskaya Sopka, the highest mountain on the Kamchatka Peninsula and the highest active volcano in Eurasia, exploded along with the Shiveluch volcano 45 miles to the northeast, said officials with the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry's Kamchatka branch.

No injuries were reported, but flights in the area were forced to change course, the Russian agency said.

Ash clouds from the remote volcanoes rose up to 33,000 feet, and were drifting east across the Pacific Ocean as lava streams flowed down the slopes of Shiveluch, said vulcanologist Sergei Senyukov in an interview with Rossiya 24 television.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a notice to pilots on Thursday, advising that they remain alert for possible ash clouds.

Emissions have "intermittently complicated air travel" in the Kamchatkan Peninsula, the agency said.

"Any air carriers, including foreign air carriers, that observe or experience any difficulties resulting from an encounter with volcanic ash, please notify air traffic control immediately," the FAA said in its notice.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said several pilots have reported seeing ash clouds in the Alaskan region.   However, no problems were reported since the ash has remained below 25,000 feet. 

Planes are typically assigned higher altitudes, and the FAA has not issued any flight restrictions due to the ash, Brown said.

FAA spokeswoman Tammy Jones said the agency does not expect the eruptions to impact U.S. air traffic.

The Associated Press reported that the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center in Tokyo had issued an advisory for planes to be alert for the ash cloud.  However, Tokyo's Narita airport has not yet had any flights diverted.

Volcanic ash covered the nearby town of Ust-Kamchatsk, cutting visibility to just a few feet and making buildings appear white.   Schools and businesses in the town were closed while all streets were shut down to traffic.

Officials in the town said its 5,000 citizens were not in immediate danger, but advised residents to stay indoors and to tightly shut their doors and windows to avoid inhaling ash particles.

Ust-Kamchatsk is located 45 miles east of Shiveluch and 75 miles northeast of Klyuchevskaya Sopka, and winds blew ash from both on the town. 

Scientists warned that ash would likely continue falling on the area for at least 10 days.

Eruptions from Shiveluch "” the larger of the two volcanoes "”appeared to wane late Thursday, while Klyuchevskaya Sopka, which stands 15,584 feet high, kept erupting, according to Russian officials.

Jen Burke, a meteorologist with the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit, said ash from the Shiveluch eruption was drifting across the Bering Sea at an altitude of 25,000 feet, which could put it in the flight paths of planes flying over Alaska between Asia and North America.

"Right now it's not a difficult area to avoid because it's north of the Aleutian Islands," Burke told the Associated Press.

"Planes could fly south of the Aleutian Islands and be perfectly safe."

Although the ash could affect the extreme west coast of Alaska, winds are predicted to push the cloud north, she added.

The Associated Press reported that Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry had warned on Thursday that another volcano across the peninsula to the south, known as Gorely, had begun spewing gases and could erupt at any minute.

Gorely is located about 45 miles south of Kamchatka's regional capital, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

Kamchatka peninsula, which extends into the Pacific Ocean, is dotted with active volcanoes that are part of the "Ring of Fire" encircling the Pacific.


Image Caption: Shiveluch from space, July 2007. Credit: NASA/JSC


On the Net: