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The Sciences

Lava Flows Continue at Tolbachik in Russia

Rocky PlanetBy Erik KlemettiDecember 6, 2012 7:15 PM


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VNIR (visible near infrared) image of the Tolbachik eruption, showing the active lava flows on December 3. Image: University of Pittsburgh/Dr. Michael Ramsey/NASA. Judging from the news out of Kamchatka and MODIS images from today (12/5), the Tolbachik eruption that began last week is still going strong, with lava flows extending at least 10 km from the series of vents on the southern part of the edifice. The latest KVERT update mentions that the plume from the eruption is still reaching ~4 km / 13,100 feet. With the ongoing nature of the activity, they think that a new cinder cone is being created on the slopes of the 1975/76 cinder cone -- slowly these fissures with coalesce and localize much of the activity. We saw this occur in almost the exact same sequence during the first phase of activity at Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, as the fissure vent coalesced into a single vent (until the second fissure opened a few weeks in) -- all typical for these styles of basaltic volcanism. The lava flows from this eruption have already destroyed a few structures, including research buildings on Tolbachik. The Voice of Russia had a nice slideshow showing the dark black lava flows moving across the snow-covered terrane around the volcano. The University of Pittsburgh released a couple cool ASTER images of the Tolbachik eruption taken on December 3. The first (above), shows the incandescent lava flows from the eruption in VNIR (visible near infrared) -- likely at temperature of ~900ºC, possibly near vents or open skylights on the flows. The second image (below) is a TIR (thermal infrared) image that shows the network of lava flows that have formed since the eruption began. The larger pixels (90m/pixel versus 15m/pixel in VNIR) have integrated surface temperatures as high as 107ºC and appear and red in the image. The relatively hot flows are white while some smaller flows on the edges of the flow field have cooler rapidly and are barely noticeable. This might suggest that these flows are fairly thin - however, some flows appear to be quite thick according to some reports from Russia. These images were taken through a thin cloud layer, but still capture the complex nature of a lava flow field that was only ~5 days old at the time.


TIR (thermal infrared) image of the network of lava flows from the Tolbachik eruption, taken December 3, 2012. Image: University of Pittsburgh/Dr. Michael Ramsay/NASA.

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