Terra Incognito: the Verkhoyansk mountains

The Eurasian continent has been thoroughly explored. From Ireland to Kamchatka, there seems little left to discover. Wherever you go, someone has gone before, and left a comment on tripadvisor. People are everywhere, and all geological features are known. We present and explain, but do not discover.

But there are still mysteries. For there are still mountains that few people have ever heard of. Between Ireland and Kamchatka there is one 1000-km long mountain chain where the highest peak, 2400 meters tall, has no name. Anywhere else, this would be a well-known and much-visited mountain range. Here, it is lost. Who could imagine Terra Incognita could still exist in such a well explored continent?

This post is about that mountain range. There are no volcanoes there and volcanism plays only a marginal role, although there is an (in)decent explosion near the end. I hope you don’t mind. This post is all about my curiosity.

The Verkhoyansk mountain range is rugged, remote, and very very cold. To travel there, you may fly to Yakutsk (remember that name from the game Risk?) but it is difficult to get any closer. The main road (the R504 or ‘road of bones’) goes east (cross the Lena river by ferry or ice road – there is no bridge and often the river can’t be crossed and instead helicopters are required) and skirts the mountains – literally so where it is just a narrow track on the side of a cliff! In the winter the Lena river becomes an ice road and can be used to drive north, closer to the real mountain range. You can also fly to the town of Bagatay, and drive west from there. Either case, make sure you have at least two vehicles (always travel in convoy), a working GPS (don’t expect such luxuries as roads), and a guide.

The Lena highway on a bad day. The speed limit here is 70! That is fine in winter, but summer melt makes it more like 70 per week. (The road has since been paved.)

The Verkhoyansk mountain range is located in Yakutia, Russia’s largest province, nowadays known as the Sakha republic. It is the size of India but has a population of less than 1 million. The mountains run from the Arctic ocean to the south, and on the east, in a long arc running partly along the Lena river. The range is named after a settlement 150 km east of the mountains, Verkhoyansk, which itself was named after the river Yana. This town of 1200 people is reportedly the coldest inhabited place on earth! The local temperature record is -67.8 C. It is a good place to raise reindeer, but little else. The cold is dangerous. Temperatures this low cause scar-burns around the mouth. The highest recorded temperature, in rather sharp contrast, is +37.3 C. That is a range of over 100 C!

In 1926, the explorer Sergei Obruchev traveled through the region. In his words: “It was difficult to find a guide even for such a route. The first 150 kilometer, up to the foot of the Verkhoyansk range, lay through an area entirely covered with bogs in which horses were sinking at every kilometre. It was only on the ninth day that we reached the range, an enormous wall separating the coldest portion of the globe from south Yakutsk. At the place where we intersected it, the Verkhoyansk range consists of four parallel chains, of which the main one attains 2500 meters in height and is covered with patches of permanent snow. The southwestern slope of the range facing the Lena and Aldan rivers has an alpine character, due to intense erosion; the slope facing the Yana and Indigirka is gentle, with a number of small chains, and has the aspect of a high plateau. The greatest width of the range at this place is 450 kilometer, and we only reached the Indigirka river at the mouth of its great left-bank tributary, the Elgi river, by the beginning of August.”

A few months later, on the return: “In Oimekon we managed to exchange our horses for supplies, warm clothes, and deer for the return journey. We succeeded in crossing once more the Verkhoyansk range on our way to Yakutsk, but this time in sledges. Our work was seriously handicapped by frosts (from -50 to -60C) and by the necessity of spending the night in tents at such low temperatures. The range is absolutely unpeopled for 600 kilometer of the way. Taryn are another hindrance. Taryn are a peculiar feature of North Siberia. They are formed in winter when the rivers are frozen through to the bottom, and water which cannot make its way under the ice issues through the gravel of the river-banks to the surface of the ice, where it spreads out in a thin layer and freezes. Considerable areas, many tens of square kilometres, are thus frozen over and the valley covered by an ice layer 3-6 meters thick; this ice does not melt during the summer. In summer Taryn present excellent ways for caravans, since they are easier to travel upon than gravel; but in winter the Taryn are great obstacles: they are either congealed and consequently very slippery, or else covered with water into which the deer fear to enter. Not infrequently it happens that several layers of a Taryn are not wholly frozen up, sledges sink into it, and the deer perish. While we were crossing the range three of our sledges were immersed in this way, one my own and two of our guides; but fortunately all was saved. At a temperature of -60 C such adventures are far from being amusing.”

If you think these temperatures are exaggerated, here are the temperature records for this area for 1901. This was a mild year: Verkhoyansk had 72 days without frost, while in 1869 only 37 such days were recorded.

Summer travel can be almost impossible. As a traveler in 1902 wrote “In the summer only Cossacks attempt to travel through with the mail to Verkhoyansk, once each way. The journey, which is made on horseback, is a perilous one, owing to unfordable rivers and dangerous swamps, and the mail carriers are occasionally drowned, or lost in the marshy deserts where they perish of starvation.’ It is easier in winter. The same source: ‘About halfway the Verkhoyansk range is crossed and here vegetation ceases and the country becomes wild in the extreme. Forests of pine, larch and cedar disappear, to give place to rugged peaks and bleak, desolate valleys, strewn with huge boulders, and slippery with frozen streams, which retard progress, for a reindeer on ice is like a cat on walnut-shells.” Few animals can survive the climate. Reindeer do well, but bears are not plenty. The top predator in the area is, without doubt, the mosquito.

This is a hard land. For instance, how do you get water in winter when everything is deeply frozen and permafrost extends a kilometer down? People live along major rivers not only because of transport. In winter, they can be the only source of water, cutting deep through the ice. The Yakut, fairly recent arrivals, have done well. But in the modern era, things are more difficult. The internet comes where roads do not. Young people see that their lives are not like those of other people, they move away for school and work and do not come back. Verkhoyansk has halved in size in 20 years. One day it may cease to exist, one of many ghost towns in Russia.

The mountains

A NASA/Modis image of the southern edge of the mountain, near Yakutsk. North is up. Bottom left is the Lena river, while the river following the mountains is the Aldan. The mountains to the top with the sharp linear edge are part of the Verkhoyansk range.

The mountain range rises in a steep escarpment above the central Yakutian lowland where the Aldan and Lena river flows. The lowland, at around 100 meters altitude, is a typical Siberian landscape, featureless and seemingly never-ending. The flat plains allow the Lena river to widen: the river in places can grow to 8 km wide. The large majority of the water comes from snow melt, and in spring the water flow increases ten fold. This, with the melting ice, can cause enormous flooding. Don’t build too close to the rivers here.

The mountains tower over these plains. They are mostly around 1500 meters high, with peaks over 2 kilometers. The highest peaks are in the central and southern range. To the best of my knowledge, none of the peaks are named: there are too many, often little more than a bump in a long ridge, and of course inaccessible. There are patches of snow even in summer but no glaciers. In fact, not much snow falls in winter. It is too cold and the air contains very little moisture. Most snow falls in autumn and spring when it is freezing but not as cold.

Towards the east side of the mountain range, the ridges become less distinct, less rugged and less tall. The range that started so suddenly now decays into a plateau, which slopes down towards Verkhoyansk, itself only a little over 100 meters altitude. From here, you’ll find an unexpected bonus: a road, which follows the Yana river (at a safe distance) towards Batagay, a town a little larger than Verkhoyansk and with an airport, but less famous because it is not quite as cold. Batagay has a peculiar claims to fame: it is near the Batagaika crater, a kilometer wide and 100 meter deep. If you are now hoping for something volcanic, you will be disappointed. It is a melt structure in the permafrost, currently rapidly growing larger.

In Summer, the foothills burst into bloom.

The Kolyma highway through the southernmost Verkhoyansk mountains. It is also known as the Road of Bones because of the number of gulag prisoners who died building it, and who are now buried beside or underneath it. Photo by Bjorn Steinz

On the Road of Bones through the southern Verkhoyansk mountains

A bridge on the highway

The local horse, small, sturdy, and ready for winter

Reindeer in the Verkhoyansk mountains. https://englishrussia.com/2010/09/06/evenki-of-the-verkhoyansk-mountains/

Geologically, the Verkhoyansk range consists of a series of folds, each some 20 km wide, which has given rise to parallel ridges. On the west side, a foredeep has developed in which the Lena river has placed itself. Here, the Siberian craton begins, one of the older pieces of continental crust which stretches from the Lena to the Yenisei river. The mountains have developed at the edge of this craton, as part of a crumple zone which stretches 3000 km to the Pacific. The direction of crumple is very obvious from the linear striations in the landscape, here visible in PlanetEarth images from July 2019.

Across the entire mountain range, in July 2019. The Lena River is left. Data from PlanetEarth

Zooming on the striations. We will come back to that lake later. Data from PlanetEarth

Beyond the Yana floodplain where the towns of Verkhoyansk and Batagay are located, there is a second mountain range, the Chersky mountains (named after a Polish explorer who had been exiled to Siberia), a little higher. These mountains are better known, and more accessible, perhaps because the climate is less extreme. Some of the mountains even have names. (In typical Russian fashion, the highest peak is called ‘Pogeba’ or ‘victory’.) Beyond that there are two more mountain ranges before the Bering Strait is reached. South of there, Kamchatka hangs like an oversized appendix, with its equally oversized volcanoes. It is all a very different world from the plains of western Siberia. Something has happened here.

The Siberian craton

The Siberia craton forms the core of Siberia around which the rest grew. The craton was assembled when at least three different parts came together. The merger seems to have happened in phases at 2.8 and 2 billion years ago, and was complete by 2 billion years. The individual parts are older: the oldest date found for any rock here is 3.3 billion years.

The craton has had a hard life. About 40% of the craton was covered by the Siberian traps eruption at the Permian-Triassic transition, 250 million years ago. This was only half the total eruption: the rest ended up in the neighbouring west Siberian basin. This was one the largest ecological disasters the world has seen, far exceeding the one that ended the dinosaurs.

And this was not its first such eruption. There had already been a flood basalt on the Siberian craton during the Devonian, 370 million years ago. It is called the Yakutsk-Vilyui flood basalt. There may have been one 1 billion years ago as well. Interestingly, both the Yakutsk-Vilyui and Siberian traps flood basalts were followed by a phase of kimberlite eruptions, coming from the deep lithosphere below the craton. Those after the Yakutsk-Vilyui eruption brought up diamonds. Those after the Siberian traps did not.

Flood basalt in cratons have a difficult time to get started. They have to break their way through an extremely thick lithosphere, which is very reluctant to melt. A plume would need to be at 300 C warmer than the usual mantle, and it still would require help from something else that thins the crust, such as rifting or a suture where blocks have come together in the past. (A volatile-rich plume could melt the lithosphere at lower temperatures.) The flood basalt that accompanied the opening of the Atlantic Ocean was in part related to suturing as continental break-up happened along a very similar (but not identical) line to whether the previous ocean had closed. The Devonian flood basalt on the Siberian craton was related to a rifting event. For the Siberian traps we don’t know. The craton was just unlucky to be in the wrong place twice in a row.

The Devonian rifting left us the basin of the Vilyui river, reaching towards an eastern ocean – perhaps a new one. Massive rivers began to bring in sediment from the mountains along the southern and northern edge of the craton, and deposited them on the ocean floor on the east side of the craton. 15 kilometers of sediment formed: this is now known as the Verkhoyansk group. Beyond the ocean was the ancestral North American or Hyperborean plate. The ocean slowly closed over the next 200 million years. When the Siberian traps erupted, this closing was still a distant threat. But by the late Jurassic, 150 million years ago, a continental collision was looming. It happened over the next 50 million years. As usual in such cases, first one or more volcanic arcs arrive, followed by the chasing plate. The arcs attached themselves to the craton. The arriving plate pushed up the sediment that was deposited at the margin of the continent, which folded over and formed mountains. Between the folds and the craton was the foreland basin, almost 1000 kilometers long, on the margin of the Siberian craton. East of the folds was the Kolyma-Olomon terrane which had just arrived. In between remained the folded collection of sediments, volcanic arcs, pillow lavas, black shale – it became quite a complex region.

It sounds all very similar to how Alaska formed, and in fact this land has a very similar history. Kolyma arrived as Alaska was rotating into its position. The various mountain ranges show that new terranes were episodically added, just as happened in Alaska. And most importantly, the newly added land now belongs to the same plate. For the whole area east of the Chersky range is now part of the North American plate. The area from the Verkhoyansk range to the Chersky range is on the Siberian foreland. But east of there, the land is moving with America. It may have been glued to Eurasia, but its loyalty is to a different world. As far as the Earth is concerned, east of here is on the wrong continent. Of course this causes stress and the area shows earthquakes up to M7, although not frequent. Most of those are around the Cherskiy mountains but the Verkhoyansk range had two M6.5 earthquakes in 1927, in its northernmost edge. Not many people will have felt it, and the mountains have been quiet since. Eerily so.

Many of the sediments came from distant mountain chains, pushed up along the edges of the craton. And they brought riches. Many of Russia’s mines are here, extracting gold and minerals. If you are looking for tin, zinc or antimony, look no further than Verkhoyansk. But the riches have a dark side. In the 19th century, when Russia banished dissidents, this is where they were exiled. And in the time of the USSR, much of the work in the mines was done by prisoners: these were the infamous gulags. The Siberian craton had had bad luck, but it also passed this bad luck on.

Udachny and the unlucky diamonds

Not far from the Verdoyansk mountains (by Siberian standards: 500 km or so to the west), on the Siberian craton, is the town of Udachny. It is cold here, 14 km from the arctic circle. Winter lasts 8 months and brings temperatures of -60 C. There is nothing here apart from minerals: the ground water, 300 meter below the surface where the permafrost ends, reportedly contains half the periodic table. However, those were not in minable deposits here. Instead, diamonds are forever and diamonds is what was found here. Udachny is one of 600 kimberlite deposits in Yakutia, of which 150 are believed to contain diamonds although few are economic to exploit. It took a decade for plans to mine the diamonds to become reality. Udachny town was build in the 1960’s. It now hosts some 12,000 people living next to the typical deep, steep hole of the diamond mine, over 600 meters deep. The open-pit mine has closed and a new underground mine has opened. The diamonds are sold through De Beers.

Udachny is unique in one way: it is the only place I know off where diamond mining was helped by nuclear bombs. At least, was tried. It may sound surprising since diamonds are destroyed by heat and nuclear heat is hotter than most. But the bomb was used to help the preliminary building work. Actually, this was an established procedure: over 100 such explosions may have been used across the USSR between 1974 and 1989, twelve of which were in Yakutia. In 1974, a smallish (1.7 kton) nuclear bomb was exploded 100 meters below ground, in order to melt the permafrost, push up the ground and create a water reservoir dam. It was the first of 7 planned explosions, together designed to create a 2 km long, 30 meter high crest which would dam the local creek and create a tailing dump.

It was a disaster. The explosion produced a bank only 14 meters high, far lower than expected, but also released far more nuclear debris into the air than planned for. The debris included caesium strontium, plutonium and even americium. The fallout killed about half a square kilometer of forest, and it took almost 20 years to make the area safe. The town had to be relocated. The hole was plugged in the 1990’s with a 10 meter tall hill of concrete. It all acted as an early model for Chernobyl and its sarcophagus, and was quietly forgotten about. Mining continued in more traditional ways. One may wonder whether the name ‘Udachny’ was an appropriate choice for the town: the word means ‘successful’ or ‘lucky’.

The kimberlite here has an age of 360 million years. It is not entirely clear how the Devonian plume caused this rare type of eruption (if it did). Kimberlite eruptions bring up material from the mantle keel of the craton, typically 100-200 km depth, in a rare type of eruption. They are small, fast, cool, and incredibly deep. There has been no kimberlite eruption in living memory: we have no idea how they happen. But the aftermath brings up a peculiar kind of ‘luck’.

Lake Billiyakh

This is the lake mentioned above. It is a mountain lake on the western edge of the mountains, at 340 meters altitude. The climate here is typical for the region: July is balmy, at a mean temperature of 17C, and January is frigid at a mean temperature of -40C leaving the lake deeply frozen. Lake Billiyakh is some 8 by 11 km, and 8 to 20 meters deep. Interestingly, this region was largely ice free during the ice ages. The last glacial advance reaching the lake was 90,000 years ago (the glaciers tended to flow along the nearby river valley instead). This gives a long undisturbed sediment record, and therefore a record of the local climate.

The sediment show that there has been water in the lake over the past 50,000 years, deep into the ice age. While Scandinavia and Canada were deep under the ice, here there was water. The sediment shows the gradual warming (relatively speaking) as the ice age waned. Bushes began to appear 40,000 years ago during a brief (2000 years) warmer interlude in the ice age. 30,000 years ago the area became much drier again as melt water reduced in the colder climate, and the tundra was replaced by grasslands. But 14,000 years the climate became warmer and wetter, the lake deepened again and the wet shrubby tundra re-developed. The modern taiga developed from 7000 years ago. The records agrees well with the temperature record that has been derived from the Greenland ice cores. The main difference is that the Younger Dryas cold snap has no clear counterpart in the Billiyakh sediment, and the warmth of the early holocene took a bit longer to arrive here. However, it is interesting that the glacial cover here was out of phase with that around the Atlantic Ocean. As the American and European glaciers reached their maximum, there was much less glaciation in this area. The earlier peak 90,000 years ago, in contrast, did coincide with extended glaciers here. The cause is probably the air circulation that determined how much Pacific moisture could reach here. Glaciers need snow.

Along the river Yana, east of the Verkhoyansk mountains, is the oldest habitation known in the arctic. Near the delta, evidence for huimanity has been found dating to 32,000 years ago. This is shortly after the warmer interlude found from Billiyakh. It is conceivable that the warmer period allowed the people to spread north.

This may have another implication. Between Siberia and Alaska is Beringia, the land that we forgot. During the ice age it connected the continents, and it was were people lived before the migration into the Americas. The brief warm interlude 40,000 years ago, and the lack of glaciers afterwards, may be how the would-be Americans arrived at and survived in Beringia, prior to their long march south. Sometimes after 20,000 years ago, the Beringians moved west into the Yana region to replace the local populations. Probably this is the same time that other Beringians moved east to become the native Americans. Did sea level rise force them out of their habitat? Did they too have their climate change deniers, saying that all this warming was nonsense and should be ignored? It is such a human response: I’d love to know. There was a later, second migration across the Bering strait from this region which gave rise to the Inuit and the NaDene-speaking North Americans.

The Verkhoyansk mountains are an enigma, a terra incognito in our own backyard. It remains inaccessible and unnamed. Such places do still exist. But the region is part of our lives. It has shaped our world, and acts to both separate and join Russia and America. It has brought us riches, but also the shame of the gulag archipelago. And it is becoming yesterday’s world, abandoned and forgotten. Some places are just too hard.

Albert, June 2020

100 thoughts on “Terra Incognito: the Verkhoyansk mountains

  1. Thanks Albert!
    Indeed Im adopted from Russia
    Slavic blood I have.

    Siberia was even more terrfying
    during the Glacial Maximums.
    Much much much colder than today.
    Cooling very strong in Russia during the Ice Ages. – 90 C appear in some temperature simulation maps.

    Ice Age Siberia was also extremely dry
    So dry and cold that only tundra was present and polar deserts.
    The dryness prevented glaciation there.

    • Yes, it is interesting that glaciers formed in Scandinavia and Canada but not in Siberia or Alaska (or at least, less so). I was surprised to learn that different glacial periods had different glaciers. One paper said that the glaciers themselves changed the air flow and wind patterns. Note the people did survive in Siberia even during the ice age. Unlike northern Europe and Britain.

  2. Fascinating! Thanks!
    I suppose the Younger Dryas, being an Atlantic-centred event where North American glacier lakes flooded the north Atlantic (if I recall rightly) may not have affected Billiyakh so far to the east. The Atlantic Gulf Stream shut-down may have produced a re-emergence of ice age conditions that hugged the Atlantic rather than the northern hemisphere? The end of the Pleistocene epoch. (Or the Plasticine Epoch as I used to call it in school…). I’m not really bright enough to know without checking.

    I happened to read this while I listening to my favourite Russian folk group Otava Ё. A good match!
    A very interesting read thank you.

  3. Such a beautiful read. I really enjoy travelling with you thru space and time.

    • And I like to learn more from the readers! Has anyone ever been near this area?

  4. Thing about Volcano Cafe is you never know what you didn’t know. Fascinating article.

  5. Albert, do you have similar history for Spain / Pyrenees? There is a holocene volcanic field on Spanish side. I find that orogeny fascinating and confusing.

  6. So basically, it is not Eurasia, but Eurasiamerica, continentwise 😉 Facinating! Africa is also more or less atached, last week’s novopangea is there already! (a bit spread out though)

    • That’s the funny thing about the Americas. North and South America are recent companions.

  7. Very Well Told !!

    FWIW, given its ‘Fast & Furious’ aspects, a modern kimberlite eruption would be quite something to see– Via webcam !!

    • I wonder how much advanced warning a Kimberlite eruption would give.

      • The estimate is about one day of warning. Earthquakes would only come once the rapid assent has already started.

        • Wow! Not much time to get evacuations going. Think of the mad rush afterwards to try to get claims on the diamond-rich ejecta…

  8. A little bit of tremor on the Big Island, with a couple of 2+ around the quiet Kilauea.

    2020-06-10 13:19:56 2.1 -1.1
    2020-06-10 13:19:55 2.2 1.8
    2020-06-10 11:36:31 1.9 30.8
    2020-06-10 11:10:13 2.5 30.7
    2020-06-10 10:52:33 2 32.8
    2020-06-10 10:17:36 2.1 35.8

  9. Its a magnificent read, Albert.
    Truly amazing article.

    By the way, i have been away from the blog in recent weeks and I also want to appreciate the fantastic recent series of articles on Laki!

    • If you mean the twitter link, I see it, and I’d like to know if this is in any way verified.
      Liking the name change.

      Also, more generally, Thanks all for the recent articles. I’ve been checking in here most days but not posting as I’ve been keeping myself very busy with music and landscaping during the UK lockdown, so I haven’t been posting.

      Has anyone else LOST weight during their lockdowns? I’ve lost 10 pounds so far, and I’m one of the few that’s actually loving it.

  10. Furnas in Azores is an extremely dangerous volcano. While a sleepy and tired volcano. 1440 persons stil live in this caldera, thousands of persons visit every week. Furnas is capable of large VEI 4 s plinians and larger.
    Its full of gassy stale trachyte magmas.
    The year 1630 Subplinian killed over 200 persons. Furnas eruptions are very rare, but if something happens,
    it will be dangerous. ”Invisible” volcanoes like these are often the most hazardus.

    Saõ Miguel is not very productive in volcanic materials, its on a superslow transform fault spreading, and partial melting is small.

    But the volcanoes gets full of gassy old stale magmas, and haves huge explosive eruptions sometimes.
    Both Furnas, Sete Cidades and Auga De Pau volcanoes are dangerous

    • The Azores erupt once in 20 years or so. It is not unproductive in number of eruptions

      • Azores is a large volcanic arera and There is lots of seamounts and ridges spaning many 100 s of kilometers along the transform faults.
        Most eruptions are submerged.

        The Island of Saõ Miguel is sluggish in Volcanic activity
        Its magma supply is not large.
        Last eruption on land there was 100 s of years ago.
        But Sao Miguel volcanoes form evolved gassy Magmas because they are sluggish.
        Eruptions can be very violent indeed in the calderas.
        Dangerous volcanoes.

        Smaller Alkali basaltic monogentic events happens too sometimes in Saõ Miguel

      • Azores haves a wonderful climate!
        A very rare type of climate too.

        Oceanic Subtropical Climate

        Extremely mild and pleasant all year around.
        Never hot,Never cold.
        Azores, Madeira and Northen New Zeeland
        Are the only places with this kind of climate.

        It hovers around lower 20 s all year around.
        + 17 to 24 all year around, perfect climate for older persons and children.

        • Jesper, to cold for where I come from, our perfect weather is between 24 and 30 degrees, below 22°and we put on jerseys. In Africa we like it warm.

      • The Lakes in Sete Cidades Caldera are totaly ruined by cows and agicultural runoff.
        The cows manure – hole pit it really have become there.

        Before humans came to Azores these lakes in Sete Ciades Caldera was almost Oligotrophic and clear blue.

        Now They are hypereutrophic, green and smelly and stinky…

        Agiculture is not
        Good at keeping volcanic lakes healthy

      • The green fields inside Sete Cidade’s volcano caldera are used to pasture cattle, and thus some of the lakes have become the cows’ toilet.

        But I am somewhat comforted to see the lake fell in stumbled

        was not called Lagoa Marrom (Brown Lake)…

        I visited Azores October 2019

      • I was running along the lake Beach in the caldera, down there
        in the small town.
        The caldera floor.
        I stumbled on the beach and fell into the lake.
        Ugly green water…
        I hopes, I did not caught anything.

        Sete Cidades crater floor haves a unique microclimate,
        up at the rim it was cold and windy.

        But down at the lakes shore, hot and humid and clammy.

        There is pumice everywhere there

      • Still despite huge human influense
        Almost all forests are gone copped down, and invasive plants runns rampage

        Azores are still a magicaly beautyful place of volcanoes.
        Specialy Pico volcano
        And Sete Ciades caldera.

        And cattle are happy outside.

        I will revisit Azores in 2022 maybe

        • Beautiful place, the Azores.
          Was there in 2015
          Great climate and nature.

          About 300-400 years, the main island had some pretty big VEI5 caldera forming eruptions. Three calderas in Sao Miguel Island are capable of large eruptions.

          That can be a big risk for European airplanes.

          Imagine that!

    • IMO is currently showing Grímsvötn aviation colour code as RED!
      Before anyone gets too excited over this, it is also clearly marked EXERCISE. I guess the current development prompted someone to test the routines in order to be prepared when the lid pops for real.

      • I just about had a heart attack when Googling Pahala earthquakes and an 8.0 turned up (and not the 1868 7.9) in search results. Took me a moment to notice the date was in the future and it was hypothetical!


        Date: July 7, 2020
        Time: 4:09 AM (Local Time)
        Duration: 1 minute, 8 seconds
        Magnitude: 8.0
        Depth: 10 km
        Epicenter: Pahala, Hawaii


        Hopefully the author of that page isn’t a time traveller 🙂

  11. Been keeping an eye on Sakurajima.

    The eruption on June 4th, it turns out, was one of the most significant in recent years; it threw large blocks over 3km from the crater, landing within 100m of a village.

    Using google translate on the tweets and links, there are arguments the volcano should be, and should have been, at alert level 5 (evacuate the island) since June 4th – but it isn’t:


    • Its been looking really scary for years.
      One day it will be scary, but too late for anyone to react..

    • Assuming 130 years between major eruptions (from magma inflow rate), the next large eruption will be in 2044 ..

    • Just nit-picking, but it isn’t an island anymore! 😛

      • So this is the famous dungeon! What an interesting place!

        Hope you enjoyed the cookies – admin

  12. Albert
    Russia during the Glacial Maximum
    There was almost No summer rainfall
    at all right?

    Ice Ages are very dry
    LGM Equatorial Africa experienced a 90% drop in rainfall

    And dry regions became even drier than today, Sahara expanded alot

    • Cold weather means less evaporation therefore less rain. (and reversely: the increase of rainfall in recent years is a consequence of global warming.) But how much rain fell where was dependent on airflow. You can get a rain shadow behind a large glacier. There probably was a wet season in some places (tundra also requires wet). The area around Lake Baikal acted as refuge for ice age survival. Siberia nowadays has a fair amount of rain in summer. But the amount of dust in ice age deposits in ice cores shows that a lot of land was quite dry. As for the Sahara, that also depends on the Milankovitch cycles. It was much wetter 5000 years ago than it is now.

      • Sahara was even larger during the Glacial Maximums

        During Saale Ice Age Maximum
        200 000 years ago

        Africa was in a super drought

        Ice Ages are dry

  13. Star near Thorbjörn. Another episode of unrest in the peninsula. 200 quakes in 48 hours. There has been some uplift again about a week ago.

    Saturday 13.06.2020 20:27:04 63.871 -22.424 5.1 km 3.5 99.0 3.7 km NNE of Grindavík
    Credits IMO.

    • Yes, there has been about 2cm of uplift in the last 2 weeks. The earthquake activity is now around 5 km depth.

  14. Summit inflation of Kilauea sharply increased in May 20 after 5 months of lull, since then radial tilting at the summit (Uwekahuna) has been slightly faster than it was in 2019 and inflation at the MERZ also appears to have accelerated, while the conduit down to the Jonika area seems to be blocked (with no unusual movement there).

    The increase in inflation could be due to the arrival of the same hotspot surge responsible for the bursts of deep tremor offshore Pahala in early 2019 and the VT swarm under Pahala that started in August 2019 and is still going on. The leading edge of the surge could have arrived to Kilauea if the conduit between Pahala and Kilauea is aseismic, which I am starting to think it is, the tail of the surge would still be flowing into the area under Pahala as indicated by the continuing high seismicity. Assuming this was true the next several months at Kilauea could become interesting.

    The frequency of DI events has also risen and yesterday at about 16:00-21:00 the first noticeable ‘inflation’ swarm in 3 months took place, these were very frequent in late 2019 and consist of a flurry of small quakes clustered around the summit reservoir and the UERZ conduit that happen at the end of a DI event when radial tilt rises above its pre-DI level and end when the next Di event starts, so they are controlled by pressure rise.

    There is also a weak drumbeat swarm going on since yesterday producing discrete LP events every 4 minutes on average or so. The weekly time-depth plot of HVO shows this activity around 10 km deep as usual for this kind of swarm.

    • Kilauea haves a massive magma supply
      It wont be long until the lava lake re-appears after some steam explosions.

      • It won’t be that easy, the water lake is tougher than that. Kilauea has done periods of surtseyan or vulcanian eruptions in the past and the style is always stable, no increase in pumice or juvenile material that would indicate the amount of water is decreasing happens in the deposits from those eruptions. meaning the water holds its position (remember that the floor below the lake is waterlogged and that the water table resupplies it).

        It takes something bigger, like a phreatoplinian or subplinian event or a caldera collapse to kill off the lake, and even then it may not be enough or it can just come back.

        • I would guess that anything that raises the caldera floor by ten meters or more will terminate the lake. That could happen from a collapse of the sides or inflation from a big refill of the shallow magma chamber.

      • During the 2008 – 2018 lava lake conduit times .. the Superhot magma column formed a kind of thermal steam jacket around itself
        Preventing groundwater from toutching it.
        It was so hot that it dried and heated the rocks around it.
        Any groundwater never coud come into that arera.
        The deep chasm walls glowed as
        they collapsed as the lava lake retreated in 2018. Submerged a decade below perhaps the worlds hottest lava

  15. Albert today Azores haves a mild nice Oceanic Subtropical climate
    The ocean itself milds it

    During the Last Glacial Maximum
    Woud Azores be like Faroe Islands in climate then?
    I suspect LGM Azores to be cooler and more stormy than today. Perhaps drier too. But I guess the ocean and the
    Gulf Stream meant relativily minior diffrence?

    LGM Azores still Subtropical?

      • Probably not that different from today’s. It benefits from the gulf stream and that was also the case in the ice age. It may have had cooler winters and fewer tropical storms but not extremely different to now.

        • By year 2120

          Azores will be fully tropical and Will have coral reefs

          If CO2 is allowed to rise like this

          Fully Tropical Azores in over 100 years?

  16. Another news article about Grímsvötn. Short summary: Earthquake activity is rising (we knew this already), geothermal heat is increasing, gas emissions are increasing and water level in the lake is high enough that a jökulhlaup can be expected soon.

    I find the last bit very interesting, since removing large quantities of water from the caldera can act as a trigger for an eruption as it changes the pressure balance in the system. We know that eruptions generate melt water and cause jökulhlaups, but I didn’t consider the possibility that a jökulhlaup could also precede an eruption. Apparently, this is a known mechanism for Grímsvötn according to the article.


    • I think if Grimsvotn would go now because of a jokulhaup, it would be an underpowered eruption. The volcano isn’t ready yet. It could happen but I think it is more common that an eruption melts enough ice to cause a jokulhaup.

  17. Another question relevant to this Article
    How cold was Siberia during the LGM?
    Some temperature maps shows much colder than today

    Did Homo Sapiens stay there in winter during the LGM?
    Or did the humans migrate

  18. AVO is warning that Makushin may or may not be about to erupt, after two M4 earthquakes below the volcano.

  19. https://www.nowgrenada.com/2020/06/more-than-1000-small-earthquakes-recorded-at-kick-em-jenny/

    More than 1,000 small earthquakes recorded at Kick ’em Jenny

    More than 1,000 small earthquakes occurred at the Kick ’em Jenny submarine volcano last week. This has caused the National Disaster Management Agency (NaDMA) to issue an advisory reminding marine traffic and communities within proximity about the build-up of activity.

    Located between Carriacou and Grenada, the submarine volcano has been on YELLOW code for years, but sporadically it will be active with more than normal activities. It is an active submarine volcano or seamount on the Caribbean Sea floor located 8 kilometres north of Grenada.

    “For the months of April and May there were only 29 earthquakes with a magnitude between 1.6 and 2.0, but for the period 5-12 June, there were 1,384 earthquakes with a magnitude as high as 1.8. That was a significant amount for that short period,” said Oslyn Crosby, NaDMA Communications Officer.

    Activities have since reduced, but there is continuous monitoring of the volcano

    • In case anyone else has a problem, it doesn’t seem to work for me with Firefox, It does work with Chrome though.

        • Just checked again also with 77.0.1 (Linux) and it still not working for me. What I see is the quakes flash up on the map and then disappear to be replaced with intermittent flashing black blobs which tend to vanish before you can click them.

          Looks like it may be a Firefox Linux issue (or perhaps graphic driver) as I tried 77.0.1 under Windows and it worked this time.

          • Works OK on Firefox 68.9.0 esr under Linux here, so it might be a version issue. I could zoom in and move around with no difficulties.

  20. IMO has said that Grimsvotn has reached a pressure level comparable to the 2011 eruption. Does that mean it could erupt this year?

    • Tallis, you are referring to
      https://en.vedur.is/about-imo/news/evidences-that-grimsvotn-volcano-is-getting-ready-for-the-next-eruption .

      Contributors to this blog unfortunately do not have acces to the full sets of data, IMO has.
      Comparing the sets of Cumulative Seismic Moment ( http://hraun.vedur.is/ja/vatnajokulsvoktun/grf_uppsafn.html ), I would state we aren’t there yet.
      The current graph hasn’t reached the steep parts shown in the last two sets. Albert noticed in his analyses earlier the three sets shown are not fitting to compare though, not quite.

      The increasing hydrothermal activity is visible in the drumplots. The past months eartquake activity in Grims is concentrated in the southwest rim indeed.

      This year is very well possible. My amateuristic feeling says we may have to wait to the first half of 21. 😐

      • The 2011 eruption was quite large, so a recharge may take a bit longer than average. Another factor may be the Greip activity; Greip might be getting its fuel from the same source, allthough it is not clear at all what is happening overthere.
        A second factor that may have slow down the refill of G. is the Bardarbunga eruption to Holuhraun in 2014. The emptying of the B. chamber may have affected the pressure in G. in a negative way.

    • I think Grimsvotn is likely to erupt in soon, just a few weeks from now. Gas release is a good indicator.
      And it might have another sizeable eruption. This is a volcano that can throw a few VEI6 eruptions in a row.

      Reykjanes seems also ready with its 12cm inflation since January

      • Irpsit question
        Next time Grimsvötn:
        Is it possible for a surtsey phase in the caldera? Pheratoplinian first and then surtseyan in the lake and then a small ”bunga”grows out the lake. Im soure it have happened before.
        But I knows Grim likes to do short fast eruptions.

        But both 2004 and 2011 formed small tuff cone Islands in the meltwater lakes blown in the icesheet

        • I would say a 2004-sized eruption is most likely, or maybe an 1873 (barely scraping VEI-4).

  21. Scientific American just published an article on the newly named “Grey’s Landing supereruption” out of Yellowstone that is estimated with 2,800 cubic kilometers of ejected material. The eruption was dated to 8.7 million years ago, which explains why it wasn’t recognized as a single event until just now:


    The original study came out in Geology:


    Let’s see if the study will stand the test of time…

    • Nice paper! I always thought it looked like a skip had occurred in the chain of large calderas.

      “The discoveries have reduced the number of eruptions in the Miocene “flare-up” of the Yellowstone hotspot by a third, but the super-eruption count overall is increased to 11. More-over, the size, frequency, and emplacement temperatures of the super-eruptions have decreased with time. Together, these features indicate that the hotspot activity may be waning.”

      • Yep slowing down-to the disappointment of the Daily Fail.
        Nick Zetner has some great videos on this.

  22. 7.4
    684 km NE of Opotiki, New Zealand
    2020-06-18 12:49:53 (UTC)
    Big quake

      • It hit Hawaii at around 13:00 UTC. That is where I saw it first and then starting looking around since it had the waveform that the long distance big quakes have.

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