Russian Volcano Has Woken Up and Could Erupt ‘At Any Moment,’ Scientists Say

June 10, 2019 Updated: June 10, 2019

A once considered extinct volcano in Russia’s far eastern corner may have woken up, and scientists are now warning of a potentially catastrophic eruption.

The Bolshaya Udina volcano—part of a complex of volcanoes on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula—had been dismissed as inactive until late 2017, when scientists detected increasing seismic activity beneath it, according to recent research, reported CNN.

A study conducted by a team of researchers from Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, examined the seismic activity of the volcano between May and June last year, and the findings were published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research.

In the two month period, researchers recorded and analyzed an “elliptical cluster” of seismic activity which had formed around the volcano, with 559 seismic events, compared to 100 weak seismic events detected between 1999 and September 2017.

In an interview with CNN, Ivan Koulakov, a geophysicist from Russia’s A.A. Trofimuk Institute of Petroleum Geology and Geophysics, who led the study into the Bolshaya Udina volcano, believes it should now be reclassified as active.

“At any moment, an eruption can occur,” he told the channel, adding that there is around a 50 percent chance the volcano will erupt.

As part of the study, the international researchers placed four temporary seismic monitoring stations around the volcano, and detected seismic activity more than three miles below the surface.

“Since late 2017, continuing seismic activity beneath Bolshaya Udina has been recorded, which may indicate the possible awakening of this volcano complex,” the researchers said.

“[The findings] may indicate the presence of magma intrusions with a high content of melts and fluids, which may justify changing the current status of this volcano from ‘extinct’ to ‘active.'”

It comes as an earthquake with a magnitude of 4.3 was detected under the volcano in February, which is the strongest seismic event ever recorded in the area.

Koulakov and the researchers noted that the seismic activity under the Bolshaya Udina links it to the Tolud zone, which is a region believed to store magma in the Earth’s lower crust, reported CNN. A new pathway which formed last year has meant magma has been flowing from the Tolud zone to Bolshaya Udina, the scientists observed.

The geophysicist also told the publication that the structural characteristics of the Bolshaya Udina are similar to that of the Bezymianny volcano in the same region, which was once considered extinct, but erupted in 1956.

“Or it could just release the energy smoothly over a few months, or it may just disappear without any eruption,” Koulakov explained.

An eruption could potentially have significant consequences on nearby villages, the geophysicist said, but added that “there are not many people around,” CNN reported.

He also added that ash released from an eruption could disrupt air travel in Russia, as well as affect the climate in “completely different parts of the world.”

Despite his warnings, Koulakov added more tests need to be done to monitor how hazardous the volcano is.

“We need to deploy more stations to understand if it’s dangerous or not. It’s highly unpredictable,” he added.

Meanwhile, the director of the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (IVS) of the Far East Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said it is too soon to discuss a potential catastrophic eruption of the volcano, reported RIA Novosti.

“The method of seismic tomography, on which the colleague’s forecast is based … so far has not been experimentally verified. And it’s hardly advisable to include this method in forecasting eruptions,” said Director Alexey Ozerov.

Ozerov explained that the volcano’s peak activity occurred in August 2018, and has been declining ever since.

The director said even if the volcano were to erupt, it would not endanger the lives of residents in nearby villages.

“The Bolshaya Udina volcano is a considerable distance from the villages,” he added. “It is impossible to predict the type of eruption based on seismic data alone.”