Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Expedition explores violent Russian volcanoes

A group of scientists is hiking in one of the most remote areas on the planet in pursuit of new information about the recurring deaths and rebirths of two volcanoes.

The European expedition is spending two weeks on the Kamchatka Peninsula, a vast, isolated region of theRussian Far East that is home to one of the most active volcanic areas in the world.

The expedition, which runs to Sept. 7, is focused on the Mutnovsky and Gorely volcanoes, peaks just 9 miles apart that have been active for as long as 800,000 years. Both mountains have undergone repetitive destructive and rebuilding episodes. ( See pictures from the expedition.)

Historically, such vigorous volcanic activity has made in-depth study of the region difficult. The team is collecting samples of hardened lava to try to determine the years of their self-destructive blasts.

Kamchatka's smoldering peaks are a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire — intermittent chains of volcanoes that encircle the Pacific Ocean. Over the last 6 million years or more, the area has experienced more explosive eruptions than any other region on Earth.

When volcanoes experience a particularly forceful explosion, they can eject all the magma inside them and immediately below them. "That leaves a void there, and the volcano gravitationally collapses inward," said Lee Siebert, director of the Smithsonian Institution's Global Volcanism Program.

What is left behind is called a caldera — essentially a massive crater, Siebert told OurAmazingPlanet. Over time, magma bubbling up from inside the Earth rebuilds the volcano, and the process begins all over again.

Who will be next to Explore Alaska's Volcanoes?
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