Volcanoes Old & New
Location: Kuril Islands - Chirpoy Island
by Wayne Brown
Today is an excellent day! The fog is gone, it is sunny and there is a gentle sea swell. We are about 12 miles (19 kilometers) south of the secret sub base at Broutona Bay. As the sun was rising this morning I could see clouds caught on the volcanic tops of one island a like baseball cap. The captain says this island is Chirpoy (Cheer -poy) Island. He is taking Odyssey close by this island so we can get a good look at it. We will be not doing a Zodiac landing on this island, only passing by.
As we approach Chirpoy Island our team geologist, Greg, is excited about this island because this is an island that has volcanic activity that we can easily see. Greg shows me that this island is made out of more than one volcano. As Odyssey comes around a corner of the island I can see that Chirpoy Island is still being made! I can see that there is a new volcano that is forming in the center of the island. Greg tells me how he can tell it is newly formed. On the other parts of the island green plants are growing. The new volcano has nothing growing on it because there has not been enough time for plants to grow on it.
Like the volcanoes on the other Kuril Islands, these are all composite or stratovolcanoes. (I talked about stratovolcanoes when I explored Atlasova Island (Day 6).) Stratovolcanoes are made of layers of ash, large volcanic rocks and thick lava. We can't easily slice into a volcano to see the layers, but on Chirpoy Island nature has done that for us! As Odyssey passes by a large volcanic cliff Greg points out that the side of the cliff has broken off or been eroded away. I can see the layers of thick lava that made this cliff and the volcano.
Past the cliff the captain moves Odyssey into the large bay near the newer volcano. I can see nothing growing on the sides of this volcano. Greg says this volcano is covered with volcanic ash, hardened lava and volcanic rocks. Greg points out steam coming out of the volcano from the top, a gash in its side, and a large whitish-yellow spot near the base. The yellow color is from the chemical sulfur. The rotten egg smell that we can smell near the island is hot sulfur in the steam we see. Greg says sulfur is a common material found in and around volcanoes.
Near the base of the newer volcano I can see a path as wide as a super highway that runs into the sea. The path is dark gray and it looks very rough and jagged. I doesn't look like a path that I would want to walk on. It looks like that jagged path would probably rip up my hiking boots before I walked very far. Greg tells me that this jagged path is a recent (in the last 20 years) lava flow. The reason this is so rough, compared to the rest of the island, is that it has not been eroded as the other older areas of the island have.
Odyssey comes close to the edge of the lava flow that is at the edge of the sea. Greg points out this is more than just a lava flow. It is also volcanic ash and large and small volcanic rocks. Greg says that when a volcano erupts lava does not always come out of the volcano. Sometimes an eruption is just hot, poisonous gases. Sometimes only ash (like the ash I showed on DAY 6). Sometimes ash, and small and large rocks. Somtimes lava. And sometimes everything -- gas, ash, rocks and lava.
Greg explains that the lava flow we are next to shows the different eruptions from the newer volcano. The bottom layer is dark gray and reddish. This is the lava layer that has hardened. The next layers are ash and small and large rocks. (When rocks are shot out of a volcano they are called "ejecta".)
As Odyssey leaves Chirpoy Island I look back and wonder how long it will be before this volcano erupts again.
As the sun goes down we still don't have any fog! I hope this good weather continues, because tomorrow we will try to do a Zodiac landing on one of the islands.
Chirpoy Island, Russia
Position: 46º 33' N / 150º 54' E
Midday Air Temp: 58ºF
Weather: sunny, scattered clouds and gentle swell.
Water Temp: 43ºF
Chirpoy Island. Clouds cover the volcanoes' peaks.
As we approach the island we can see the dark lava cliffs that drop into the sea. We also see that this island is made of old and new volcanoes. (The volcano in the center is the newest volcano and is not green.)
The dark lava cliffs are made of many different lava flows. Notice the layers of lava look like the layers of a cake.
The new volcano has nothing growing on it. It is covered with ash and lava. Coming from the volcano look for the wide field of new lava that has flowed into the sea.
This is the edge of the lava flow. You can see the hardened lava at the bottom. The layers above the lava are ash and rocks.