Russia nixes Kamchatka and Kuril Island volcano monitoring

Bezymianny in Kamchatka, one of the many volcanoes in eastern Russia that will no longer be monitored by KVERT.

In some bad news for volcano watchers (and the general public, too), Russia has decided to stop funding KVERT (the Russian equivalent of the Alaska Volcano Observatory), the institute that monitors and researches volcanic eruptions on the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Kuril Islands in the western Pacific. Here is the news release from KVERT:

Due to a loss of government funding beginning February 01, 2010, KVERT will no longer
distribute information regarding volcanic activity in Kamchatka and the Northern Kuriles.
Specifically, the following KVERT services are suspended:
- Assignment of Aviation Color Codes;
- Sending:
- email operational messages from IVS FED RAS and KB GS RAS;
- daily activity report in English from KB GS RAS (table format);
- KVERT Information Releases about current activity and forecasts activity of
volcanoes of Kamchatka and Northern Kuriles from IVS FED RAS
to all users including Tokyo VAAC, Anchorage VAAC, and Washington VAAC, and airlines

In addition, KVERT will no longer maintain its public web site with volcano information.
Access to the following information will cease:
- KVERT information releases
- Volcanic danger prognosis for aviation for next week (in Russian)
- Current Activity of the Volcanoes
- MODIS and NOAA satellite images
- Weekly information on current eruptions on the IVS website

So, for all intents and purposes, all the local expertise and information about the eruptions in eastern Russia is no more. No more aviation alerts, no more website with hundreds of images of the volcanoes erupting, no more updates on the activity along the arc. Now, why should you care?

  1. Have you looked at the aviation routes to Asia lately? Last year when Sarychev Peak in the Kuril Islands erupted, there was a large disruption of air travel - both passenger and freight - from North America/Europe to eastern Asia. Volcanoes are a serious hazard to aviation. This was to avoid the ash plume from the erupting volcano, which can stall engines on jet aircraft - a recipe for an air disaster. Luckily we had KVERT monitoring the volcanic eruption to give air traffic controllers and airlines information about the ash cloud and its behavior.
  2. The Kamchatka Peninsula and Kuril Islands are one of the most active volcanic arcs right now - at one point recently 6 volcanoes were erupting or showing signs of imminent eruption simultaneously. Now, we have no group dedicated to keeping track of the changing activity at noisy volcanoes like Shiveluch, Bezymianny, Kliuchevskoi, Sarychev Peak and many more.
  3. After an event like the Haitian earthquake, any time you see a government stop funding groups that monitor and mitigate for natural disasters, you have to wonder if the politicians have even a remote grasp of why these disasters occur. The more we know about the potential hazard and the better grasp we have during disasters, and especially during the period in between disasters, the more likely we are to avoid disaster. Why the period between disasters? If we can understand what leads up to a large eruption or earthquake or the like, then we can give people more warning - and more warning leads to more chance to reach safety.

This, again, shows that the general public and politicians around the world are uninterested in science. We can spend $50 million dollars for a new MIG, but not to fund a vital institution that can help prevent disasters over one of the busiest flight corridors in the world.

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You said it, Erik.

Funding to KVERT has been cut off before, but something has always been cobbled together to get it going again. Let's hope it will be back again, sooner rather than later. Whatever, it's a very irresponsible way for the Russians to manage volcano monitoring.

Even in the post-Soviet world we still need Kremlin wtchers to try to figure out the motivations behind Russian government thinking. That's not my field, but if I were to hazard a guess I would say the finances of the Russian state are not as good as we have been led to believe in recent years. Natural gas prices have dropped and the Russian supply may have peaked - The US has overtaken them.
When money gets tight politicians have people screaming at them from all sides that their program is vital. The pols tend to then worry about the near term and not long term issues. The add in influence peddling, lobbying and corruption. Plus big programs are less likely to get cut than smaller ones. Volcano monitoring is long-term, does not produce much "pork" and is not big enough to have a large politically connected bureaucracy.
Its not a rational decision making process, but it is the usual one. The only response is to fight on and make your voices heard.

Perhaps the industries affected by this (aviation) should be the ones to step up and find a way to fund KVERT?

It may be instructive to look at this graphic:

It depicts 30 days of global earthquake activity. Patterns of shallow earthquakes suggest accumulated energy along subduction tensor systems is being perhaps...'nudged' into release.

We know from recent reports that earthquakes and volcano eruptions may exhibit activity patterns of seasonality, related to changes in precipitation.

But what if there are additional sources of stressor energy capable of additive effect to seasonal pattern effect along slip-strike zones?

One interesting report suggests surface processes, like seasonal precipitation induced changes in coastal embayment sediment loading may also contribute to stress response.

A report last week suggested that maximum wave height event probability (in this case, the Pacific Northwest) may be changing as a function of shift in annual severe storm probability (perhaps a function of lower atmosphere energy attributed to global warming). These waves play a role in coastal scour and erosion events that take place in very short time periods (days to weeks).

Food for thought: Haiti has massive soil erosion issues, following near total deforestation.

There is one more major energy source that may be playing a role in temporal subduction zone activity. We'll talk about that in a later post.

Hopefully, you also made the logical connection of the exceptional number of high energy storm events that wracked Haiti recently and the exceptional high latitude cold season temperatures and precipitation events of last year and this year.

Can anyone find out the amount ( in $ ) of funding that we're talking about? I cant find the amount. The Russians have stopped funding temporarily before. I bet we arent talking about a lot of money.

Wouldnt it seem fair for the US and Japan to foot a share of the funding? Its OUR flights that are most at risk. And with shared funding would come shared control, and better exchange of info and learning. Always a silver lining.

It looks like the responsibility for ash advisory warnings in Kamchatka belongs to the Tokyo VAAC (see map here: This may mean that ash advisory forecasts will continue. However does anyone know how much Tokyo VAAC relied on KVERT for information or do they make their assessments independently?

Also while I am at it can someone let me know if the VAAC system is run through a treaty or binding international agreement - i.e are there legal requirements for the US to run the Anchorage and Washington VAAC centers, and other countries theirs?

Yes, I wasn't implying that there will be no ash advisories - we do have satellites to help detect them - but I'm sure that information of a group like KVERT can make predicting ash hazard and assessing what is seen invaluable. I mean, look at the mystery "eruption" last fall at Karkar - it took people on the ground to determine that the VAAC ash advisory was a false positive.

KVERT is very instrumental in notifying the VAACs of volcanic hazards - this paper gives specific examples from several eruptions (Bezy 2006, Klychevskoy 2007, etc.) Unlike just satellite data, KVERT can often provide advance warning of an eruption.

Neal, C., Girina O., Senyukov, S., Rybin, A., Osiensky, J., Izbekov, P., and Ferguson, G., 2009, Russian eruption warning systems for aviation: Natural Hazards, doi:10.1007/s11069-009-9347-6

I guess the Washinton VAAC will have to take responsibility for the warnings in that flight info. region. It's always best to have people on the ground watching those things though. A few years ago I ran into a petroleum geologist whose sister worked there; he was saying she supplemented her research funds with her photographs and showing tourists around (though I can't imagine many tourists in such a remote area); maybe it's getting to the point where the researchers need to work two full-time jobs. I wonder what the state is doing with all that money they make from being Europe's largest gas supplier.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 28 Jan 2010 #permalink

The USGS could always step in.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 28 Jan 2010 #permalink

Rule number one: You never get credit for what didn't happen. Saving thousands of lives by providing timely early warning gets you two column inches on page 14. Save billions of dollars by informing city planners which slopes are safe and which aren't and the consulting fee is considered thanks enough. Hang a photocopy of the check on your wall if you want the feeling to last. Until an airliner falls out of the sky little will be said about, and nothing will be done, to fill this hole in the monitoring program.

AVO/USGS can be expected to have a contingency plan in place in response to previous KVERT funding shortfalls. Japan will be saddled with the task of filling regional monitoring gap. Meanwhile, the aviation industry, NOAA/NWS and others involved in risk management are voicing their concerns via the appropriate national and international diplomatic channels.


You are an interesting individual.

May we know who we are listening to?

Russia seems to have never really understood what KVERT was doing. They were always willing to cut their funding off,do thy even have clue what they are doing there,probbly not.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 28 Jan 2010 #permalink

Even in the post-Soviet world we still need Kremlin wtchers to try to figure out the motivations behind Russian government thinking.

In general, I would agree, but this case seems quite simple. The thinking is likely: "We can't afford it, and nobody lives anywhere near there." Probably they didn't know about the air traffic issues. If they did, they probably thought air routes could just be bent to always avoid the active volcanoes, or that air traffic could rely on satellites.
I suppose there's an outside possibility this is the beginning of an attempt to convince other nations to contribute some $$ to KVERT, but it seems much more likely they just don't understand the importance of KVERT.

Just have the companies that insure the planes increase their premiums because of no volcano monitoring. The planes have to be insured or they can't be used as collateral for loans.

Here's a thought if you don't know what something is then don't mess with it, period. And if they have no clue what KVERT does then go there and find out.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 29 Jan 2010 #permalink

The Federated Russian Republic is sparsely populated with a very low population growth rate; Far Eastern Russia isone of the least populated Russian regions.…

The global economic decline has impacted many industrial sectors, including petroleum and natural gas production. Russia is also known to have made some...not good industry investments. The rationale of cutting nonessential government programs to offset funding shortfalls will be an increasingly common theme in the next year - indeed, US Federal and state agencies are presently planning budget cuts.

KVERT (and maybe SVERT) are likely to be cast as nonessential from the distant viewpoint of Moscow in the short-term as the major risk management beneficiaries are nonRussian aviation traffic.

We would politely like to add to the aviation traffic risk management, large volcano or grouped smaller eruptions are also potent modulators of global climate and may adversely affect the environment through air and water quality impacts. Volcanic gas and ash emissions can impact environmental and human health for a period of months to years after major eruptive periods.

The exceptional concentration of active volcanoes in the Kamchatka peninsula and Kurile (and nearby) islands and relative proximity to a mirrored concentration of equally active Alaskan volcanoes - all situated at a critical latitude - is reason enough to carefully monitor activity.

The well known adage, "What goes around, comes around", is worth considering with respect to global hazard monitoring along high northern latitudes*.

* large eruptions at high northern latitudes have been repeatedly shown by temperature and precipitation modeling to have profound effect on a global scale for a period of 1-4 years.

The first plane to crash because of this will cause Russia a headache I am sure they don't want.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 30 Jan 2010 #permalink

this really helped me 4 mi reasearch 4 class

By sam silva (not verified) on 02 Feb 2010 #permalink

The latest via the KVERT website: KVERT has reached a temporary funding agreement and the KVERT Project has returned to full operations. KVERT will provide daily analysis and evaluation of activity of volcanoes of Kamchatka and Northern Kuriles to ensure safe air services. The temporary agreement will fund the KVERT Project until 30 April 2010.