The typical satellite view of eastern Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula is white or green. On October 16, 2011, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite captured this image of a landscape in transition. The green of spring and summer has been replaced with the orange and tan tones of fall, and the high volcanic peaks are already coated with fresh snow, presaging the winter to come. The autumn colors serve to highlight volcanic activity in the image.
Forming the northwestern segment of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Kamchatka contains more than 300 volcanoes, 29 of which are active. Volcanism shaped Kamchatka, and in fact, circular volcanic peaks are the most distinctive features in the image. Five active volcanoes are visible: Sheveluch, Ushkovsky, Kliuchevskoi, Bezymeanny, and Plosky Tolbackik. The last four are clustered in the lower left corner of the image, and Sheveluch is top center.
Ranked among Kamchatka’s largest and most active voclanoes, Shiveluch is the only one of the five volcanoes showing obvious activity in the image. A plume of ash and gas blows east from the summit, and recent flows cover the snow on the volcano’s southeastern flank. On October 16, the Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT) reported that a plume of volcanic gas and ash rose 3 kilometers (9,800 feet) above the volcano and drifted about 35 kilometers (22 miles) southeast. KVERT also reported hot avalanches at the volcano.
Both the plume and the volcanic debris on the ground are visible because of the season. If the image had been taken earlier in the year, before snow coated the volcano’s slopes, the debris on the southeastern slope would blend with older flows. It would be difficult to identify new activity. If the image had been taken later in the year, when snow covers the entire peninsula, the ash plume would be difficult to see against a white background.
The snow also provides a clue that the other four volcanoes shown in the image have been quiet since it fell. The snow is pristine. KVERT reported lava flows at Bezymianny, but the other volcanoes had no activity in mid-October. The feature that resembles a plume east of the peaks is probably a cloud.