A volcano in the far eastern corner of Russia that was previously considered extinct may be waking up—and an eruption could be catastrophic.
The Bolshaya Udina volcano—part of the Kamchatka Peninsula’s Udina volcanic complex—was believed to be extinct until 2017, when increasing seismic activity was detected beneath it, scientists say.
Now, Ivan Koulakov, a geophysicist from Russia’s A.A. Trofimuk Institute of Petroleum Geology and Geophysics who led a study into the volcano, believes it should be reclassified as active.
“At any moment, an eruption can occur,” Koulakov told CNN.
Between 1999 and September 2017, about 100 weak seismic events were detected beneath the volcano, which stands at 9,590 feet above sea level. An “anomalous increase” in seismicity, however, began in October 2017. Between October 2017 and February 2019, about 2,400 seismic events were recorded.
February saw an earthquake of 4.3 magnitude occur under Udina—the strongest seismic event ever to occur in the area.
Researchers from Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia conducted a study of the volcano last year between May and July, which was published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research.
Installing four temporary seismic monitoring stations around Bolshaya Udina, the researchers recorded and analyzed 559 seismic events. An “elliptical cluster” of seismic activity had formed around the volcano, they determined, with seismic events taking place more than three miles beneath the surface.
“These seismic properties may indicate the presence of magma intrusions with a high content of […] fluids, which may justify changing the current status of this volcano from ‘extinct’ to ‘active,'” the researchers wrote.
Moreover, they observed that the cluster of seismic events connected the volcano with the Tolud zone, to the south of the volcano, a region believed to store magma in the Earth’s lower crust. The Tolud zone was now feeding Bolshaya Udina with magma, they concluded, thanks to a new pathway that developed in 2018.
Bolshaya Udina shares structural characteristics with another formerly extinct volcano in the region, the Bezymianny, which erupted dramatically in 1956, Koulakov told CNN.
There is around a 50 percent chance that Bolshaya Udina will erupt, he said.
“Or it could just release the energy smoothly over a few months, or it may just disappear without any eruption,” he said.
If the volcano does erupt, it could pose a significant threat to the small villages nearby, he said, though he added, “There are not many people around.”
A sizable eruption could also affect the climate in “completely different parts of the world,” he said. Ash released by the eruption could spread beyond Russia, disrupting air travel.
Unfortunately, the volcano is difficult to monitor, thanks to its distance from permanent seismic stations, Koulakov said.
“We need to deploy more stations to understand if it’s dangerous or not,” he said. “It’s highly unpredictable.”
By Emily Dixon
USGS: Yellowstone Volcano Still 21st Most Dangerous in United States
The U.S. Geological Survey said that it is classifying 18 volcanoes in the United States as having a “very high threat.”
The Yellowstone system is ranked 21st along with other volcanoes across North America.
“The threat ranking is intended as a guide in terms of which volcanoes should be prioritized for upgrades in monitoring capabilities,” Poland said. “Yellowstone is already among the best-monitored volcanoes in the world, but we expect that the upgraded threat assessment will be helpful in refining the monitoring plan.”
The USGS updated its volcano threat assessments list for the first time in a decade. It said that, “Eleven of the 18 volcanoes are located in Washington, Oregon, or California, where explosive and often snow- and ice-covered edifices can project hazards long distances to densely populated and highly developed areas.”
The danger list is topped by Kilauea in Hawaii, which erupted continuously in 2018.
Mount St. Helens as well as Mount Rainier in Washington, Alaska’s Redoubt Volcano, and California’s Mount Shasta are also in the top five, the USGS said.
Alaska’s Mount Okmok, Akutan Island, and Mount Spurr also saw higher threat scores than in 2006, the USGS said.
The “Pacific coast of the United States is a hotspot for dangerous volcanoes, with Oregon, California, and Washington ranking 3rd, 4th, and 5th, respectively,” says geologist Trevor Nace in a writeup on the report in Forbes magazine. “The highest concentration of dangerous volcanoes in the United States is Alaska, in particular, the Aleutian island chain. The Aleutian islands, while not densely populated, have the ability to significantly impact global aviation travel.”
The USGS has threat assessment levels of very low, low, moderate, high, and very high.
“Five of the 18 very high threat volcanoes are in Alaska near important population centers, economic infrastructure, or below busy air traffic corridors. The remaining two very high threat volcanoes are on the Island of Hawaii, where densely populated and highly developed areas now exist on the flanks of highly active volcanoes,” the agency said.
It added: “The high- and moderate-threat categories are dominated by Alaskan volcanoes. In these categories, the generally more active and more explosive volcanoes in Alaska can have a substantial effect on national and international aviation, and large eruptions from any of the moderate- to very-high-threat volcanoes could cause regional or national-scale disasters”
Threat scores rose for Oregon’s Newberry Volcano.
There are 161 active volcanoes in the United States.
“While Yellowstone supervolcano does have the potential for a large eruption, the fact that it erupts infrequently, shows no signs of increasing eruption risk today, and is located in a relatively sparsely populated area of the United States decreases the threat,” says Nace.
He added: “To be clear, the USGS still ranked the supervolcano as a ‘high’ threat, but it is clearly not the most dangerous volcano in the United States. The updated assessment can be used to more appropriately steer much-needed funding to the highest risk volcanoes in the United States. Unfortunately, many of the “very high” threat volcanoes are sparsely monitored and lack sufficient funding to fully assess the telltale signs of an eruption.”
Jack Philips contributed to this report