Tolbachik volcano showing sings of strong activity – explosive-effusive eruption underway


Plosky Tolbachik volcano in Kamchatka, Russia has been showing strong signs of activity this week. The alert was raised from yellow to orange on November 28, 2012. On November 29, 2012 the alert was briefly at red, the highest warning designation, and lowered back to orange. According to KVERT, a red alert level means “Eruption is forecast to be imminent with significant emission of ash into the atmosphere likely,” or, “Eruption is underway with significant emission of ash into the atmosphere.”

Tokyo VAAC reported that ash plumes from Tolbachik reached heights of 3.5 km. The MODVOLC also detected thermal anomalies and a strong S02 output is seen. On November 29, the KVERT reported that the fissure had opened up in two places (in the southern cone area); the first is located 4.5 km from Tolbachik and contains 4 or 5 eruptive vents, the second is located 6.5 km downstream from the volcano and has 2 or 3 eruptive vents. Ground observers reported that the eruption started as a series of small eruptions that progressed into two fissures. Explosions were heard in Kosyrevsk (40 km west), Maiskoye (56 km northwest) and even Klyuchi (70 km north).

This strong eruption is leading some to ask whether or not Plosky Tolbachik may become the next Eyjafjallajökull as its spewing of ash and lava intensifies.  Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull caused the shutdown of several airports throughout Europe, which led to global disruption across many industries back in 2010.

On November 30, 2012 at 01:53 UTC VONA/KVERT issued their weekly report on current status of volcanoes they observe.

SHEVELUCH, PLOSKY TOLBACHIK, KIZIMEN, KARYMSKY: Aviation color code – ORANGE (Volcano is exhibiting heightened unrest with increased likelihood of eruption.)

For Plosky Tolbachik volcano their latest report said that explosive-effusive eruption of the volcano continues. Ash explosions up to 19,700 ft (6 km) a.s.l. could occur at any time. Activity of the volcano could affect low-flying aircraft.

Effusion of lava flows continues from two fissures at Tolbachinsky Dol. Gigantic thermal anomaly is noting at satellite images in the northern area of Tolbachinsky Dol. Very fluid lava is moving to the western side of Tolbachinsky Dol. Lava flow from Northern fissure covered Stationar of IVS FED RAS Vodopadny; lava flow from Southern fissure covered Stationar of IVS FED RAS Leningradskaya and Visiter Center of Nature Park Volcanoes of Kamchatka. Volcanologists know: an effusive of fluid lava is not accompany of strong explosive activity. But weak ash fall occurred at Kozyrevsk Village on November 29-30. Possible an intensification of explosive process occurred or a new fissure was formed at Tolbachinsky Dol. (VONA/KVERT Weekly Release, November 30, 2012. KVERT, Institute of Volcanology and Seismology FEB RAS.)

Terra/MODIS image of the Tolbachik eruption, seen on November 29, 2012. Red blocks are hotspots in the thermal imager, likely eruption vents or lava flows. Image: NASA


The massive Tolbachik basaltic volcano is located at the southern end of the dominantly andesitic Kliuchevskaya volcano group. The Tolbachik massif is composed of two overlapping, but morphologically dissimilar volcanoes. The flat-topped Plosky Tolbachik shield volcano with its nested Holocene Hawaiian-type calderas up to 3 km in diameter is located east of the older and higher sharp-topped Ostry Tolbachik stratovolcano. The summit caldera at Plosky Tolbachik was formed in association with major lava effusion about 6500 years ago and simultaneously with a major southward-directed sector collapse of Ostry Tolbachik volcano. Lengthy rift zones extending NE and SSW of the volcano have erupted voluminous basaltic lava flows during the Holocene, with activity during the past two thousand years being confined to the narrow axial zone of the rifts. The 1975-76 eruption originating from the SSW-flank fissure system and the summit was the largest historical basaltic eruption in Kamchatka (GVP).

KVERT images of Plosky Tolbachik latest eruption.

Plosky Tolbachik web cam.

Featured image: Plosky Tolbachik eruption – Terra/MODIS (NASA) – Taken on November 29, 2012.

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