Volcano Island

Location: Kuril Islands - Atlasova Island

Day 6
by Wayne Brown

Odyssey is anchored in a large cove on the east coast of Atlasova (At-lass-ova) Island, about 37 miles (60 kilometers) west of the Ptichi Islands. Atlasova is a small island that is made of just one gigantic volcano, called Alaid volcano. Alaid volcano is a typical stratovolcano, shaped like an upside down ice cream cone. The top of Alaid volcano is 7675 feet (2340 meters) high. Alaid volcano is the tallest volcano in the Kuril Islands. Alaid is also one of the most active volcanoes in the Kuril Islands.

We are going ashore to explore this island. No one lives on Atlasova so we are going ashore to try to find any animals that may live here. Our team geologist, Greg Streveler, will be going with us to investigate the volcanic formation of this island. From the ship we lower our Zodiacs into the water and head for shore. It is foggy and there is a light rain, so I have my the hood up on my parka to stay dry. The top of the volcano is covered in clouds. As the clouds move over the island once in a while I can see the top. I can see some steam coming out of the top of the volcano, so I can tell it is active.

We land our Zodiacs on a nice, flat wide beach. I notice that the beach is black like the beaches I have seen on the other Kuril Islands. This beach is not fine sand. This beach is made of volcanic ash. I pickup a hand full of this ash and can see it looks like black Rice Krispies! As I walk along the beach it crunches and sounds like I am walking on Rice Krispies.

I join Greg to walk down the beach and look closely at a hill that has been worn away so we can see what it is made out of. The hill is made completely out of volcanic ash! Up close the hill looks like it is made out of many thin layers of ash. Greg points out that the hill is actually one huge pile of ash. Greg shows that layers are made from strong winds and blowing rain that eroded the side of the hill and carved the lines in the pile of ash.

Greg says there are two main kinds of materials that come out of volcanoes. One is lava and the other is ash and rocks of hardened lava. Alaid is a stratovolcano. Stratovolcanoes are tall and have steep sides. Stratovolcanoes are made of layers of thick lava, ash and large rocks of hardened lava. (Because they are made of many different materials stratovolcanoes are also called composite volcanoes.) Greg explains that the ash hill is not as old as the volcano. If the volcano was made of ash it would only be a cinder cone volcano. Cinder cone volcanoes are are not very high. Since this hill is not made of lava it shows that it was made after the main volcano was formed.

The ash hill is over 100 feet (30 meters) tall. I walk to the top of it to get a better view of the beach and the island. As I climb up the hill I can also tell this ash hill was not made very long ago because there are just a few scattered plants growing on it. The older areas of the island are thickly covered with green plants, like grasses and pretty yellow Kamchatka tiger lilies.

At the top of the hill I can see the beach where we have our Zodiac. The top of the volcano is covered in clouds even more than before. Opposite the beach where we landed I see a small lake. In between the beach and the lake are the ruins of a large building or group of buildings. I want to see what those buildings are, so I climb back down the hill and walk over to the ruins.

The ruins are what's left of an old fishing factory. From some of the old rusting machinery I can tell that they canned seafood here. If this was anything like the fish processing factory I visited in Severo-Kurilsh nine years ago it probably canned fish, caviar (fish eggs), scallops and crab. No one really knows the mystery of why everyone left the island and abandoned the factory. I think the answer to the mystery may be the volcano. Maybe the factory was abandoned because of the eruptions from the volcano. There was probably a big eruption and earthquake that scared people and may have damaged some buildings. The people here probably moved to Severo-Kurilsk where the volcanoes are not as active and dangerous.

It is time to get back to the ship. I did not see any animals on the island, but some of our team did see a few gulls around the lake.

As the ship pulls up anchor and leaves Atlasova behind I wonder when Alaid will erupt again.

Tomorrow come with me as I visit the strangest and most mysterious of all the Kuril Islands. An ancient volcano that exploded and filled with sea water. If the weather is good I plan to climb to the top of this still active volcano.

"Dah svee-dahn-yah" (Good-bye)


Atlasova Island, Russia

Position: 50º 51' N / 155º 40' E
Midday Air Temp: 58ºF
Weather: fog. light rain and gentle swell.
Water Temp: 36ºF

Atlasova Island. You can see that the island is just one huge volcano. The brown is ash and lava from recent eruptions. The green is grasses and other plants growing at the base of the volcano. (The edge of Paramuhsir Island is on the left.) (NASA photo)

In front of the ship the top of Atlasova Island can be seen covered with clouds.

The top of Alaid volcano is covered by thick clouds. On the right is the beach with one of our Zodiacs pulled up on it. On the left is the edge of a small lake. In between are the ruins of a fish processing factory.

I am holding volcanic ash. This is what the beach is made of on Atlasova Island.

Greg points out how the sides of this ash hill have been carved by erosion of the wind and rain.


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