Mount Bezymianny’s 1956 Eruption

Oct 10, 2021

Volcanic eruptions are violent events that can cause massive damages to the Earth’s surface. These events can cost the lives of humans, animals, and plants. Some volcanic events may even have influenced human evolution. Lava and magma flow from volcanoes can burn vegetation and kill living beings that fail to vacate affected areas. The chemicals and debris that come from the volcano cause environmental changes that lead to harsh living conditions. These damages differ in scale depending on the nature of a volcano’s eruption. Some eruptions are mild and only result in lava flows coming down from the volcano’s summit. There are also extremely violent eruptions that can affect a large area and cause drastic changes in the landscape. One of these eruptions is Mount Bezymianny’s directed blast that occurred in 1956. Bezymianny’s volcanic eruption was a violent event that changed the volcano’s structure and destroyed the surrounding 20-kilometer radius.

Mount Bezymianny is a snow-covered volcano in the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. Scientists called the volcano “Bezymianny” or “no-name” due to its 1,000-year inactivity while its sister volcanoes, Kamen and Kliuchevskoi, were active and are subject of frequent observations. Bezymianny’s 1000-year inactivity led scientists to believe that belongs to the “extinct volcano” category. However, the volcano became active starting in 1955 and has continued to show high volcanic activity until today in 2021. Bezymianny has become one of the most active volcanoes in the region and volcanologists actively observe its behavior.

Mount Bezymianny is a stratovolcano that is a part of the Klyuchevskoy volcano group. A massif of active volcanoes composes this volcano group which includes the Klyuchevskoy volcano, Bezymianny, and Tolbachik (Coppola et al., 2021). Most of the group’s members are also stratovolcanoes, which are the most common volcano type on Earth. Stratovolcanoes tend to appear in the circum-Pacific belt of convergent plate margins and are less common in divergent plate margins (Troll & Carracedo, 2016). Due to this, areas with high volcanic activities tend to contain a high number of stratovolcanoes. Geological data concludes that stratovolcanoes are responsible for 699 out of the 1,511 volcanic eruptions during the most recent years (Huff & Owne, 2015). These eruptions consisted of violent explosions due to the vent clusters and wall-breaking lava inside the volcanoes.

Stratovolcanoes have a huge impact on the current geological formations in the world. Their violent explosions cause massive changes in surrounding areas which can lead to various results. Volcanic eruptions can destroy forests, plains, valleys, and other landscapes. Lava flows and debris can damage the erupting volcano and cause changes in its structure. As a volcano releases gases and chemicals into the atmosphere, the surrounding area can experience unnatural climate conditions which can harm the local ecosystem. In areas with human influence, volcanic activities can result in the loss of lives of both humans and their livestock. However, volcanic activities can also result in fertile land due to the minerals that the eruption releases with the lava and gases. Farmers can benefit from these events years after the eruption making volcanic activities an essential part of their local culture.

In the case of Bezymianny, its eruption caused massive damage throughout the Peninsula. There are no records of civilian casualties which implies that there were no human victims during the volcanic eruption. As mentioned earlier, Bezymianny was inactive for 1000 years before its volcanic eruption. The volcano’s activity began in 1955 with multiple earthquakes occurring in the area. Experts recorded that before the initial eruption, Bezymianny causes a few tens to a hundred earthquakes per day (Bogoyavlenskaya, et al., 1985). The high number of earthquakes were the result of rapid magma flow trying to reach the surface from within the volcano. Bezymianny’s 1000-year inactivity may have caused thick layers of earth to accumulate that prevented the magma to flow to the surface. This resulted in multiple earthquakes and Bezymianny’s violent eruption.

Bezymianny’s volcanic eruption and other activities began on October 22, 1955 until February 1956. During this period, the volcano released magma, debris, and volcanic ash. This activity caused changes in the surrounding area that harmed vegetation and local wildlife. While the initial eruption was violent, Bezymianny’s activity decreased between December 1955 and February 1956. During this time, the volcano emitted small outbursts that were inferior to its initial activities. The volcano’s structure received changes due to the initial eruption ad outbursts. Some of its parts elevated while others expanded.

During the period between October 1955 and February 1956, Bezymianny emitted volcanic ash to the surrounding area. Experts call this activity an “ash explosion” since the volcano releases the particles into the air. The volcanic ash contains rock materials, minerals, and glass particles from inside the volcano. The volcanic ash’s mass is similar to dust which allows it to travel farther distances and affect a wide range of areas. Aside from lava and debris, volcanic ash can cause massive damage to surrounding areas. While they are small and lightweight, they have hard and jagged edges that make them dangerous to living organisms. The ash can irritate an individual’s eyes, nose, and lungs. Large-sized ashes can inflict wounds on these body parts and even cause serious injuries to an individual’s vision. The hard composition of the ashes can block air passages and result in breathing difficulty. This makes volcanic ashes a harmful effect of volcanic eruptions such as Bezymanny’s explosion.

Aside from its effects on the human body, volcanic ashes can also affect business operations. Airlines tend to cancel flights to areas with volcanic ash activity since it can affect visibility. The ashes can accumulate inside a plane’s engine and cause serious issues during the flight. As volcanic ashes cover roofs and other structures, they can weaken infrastructures and destroy them. The ashes can accumulate and cause clogging in gutters, sewers, and other systems which can result in flooding, water interruptions, and pollution. This increases the risk of water contamination that can affect daily operations and incur additional operating costs for certain businesses. This makes volcanic ash a nuisance not only to the nearby areas but also to business customers outside the affected zone.

Due to Bezymianny’s location, the ash explosions from its multiple eruptions did not affect cities nor business operations. However, some airlines may have canceled flights that would travel through the vicinity of the Kamchatka Peninsula to avoid volcanic activity. Bezymianny’s eruptions only affected the surrounding landscape including the terrain, bodies of water, and vegetation. The surrounding area of Bezymianny is mostly uninhabited due to the massif of active volcanoes such as Kamen and Kliuchevskoi.

Bezymianniy’s activities from October 1995 to February 1956 were precursors to the volcano’s directed blast eruption in March 1956. A directed blast eruption is a high-speed eruption where volcanic debris launches towards the surface. Directed blast eruptions are one of the most dangerous volcanic eruptions due to the large debris from the volcano. Similar to volcanic ash, debris from directed blasts can destroy infrastructures and result in multiple casualties. The high-speed eruption allows the debris to affect distant areas. Bezymianny’s directed blast affected a 500-square kilometer area. The March 1956 eruption burned and affected nearby tundras, alder bushes, and birch forests (Belousov, 1996). The directed blast resulted in various environmental damage and left marks such as craters.

Bezymianny’s directed blast eruption pushed away all the vegetation in the nearby tundra area. The tundra was three to ten kilometers away from the volcano which received the greatest damage to vegetation. Furthermore, the blast knocked down the vegetation in the alder bush area, which was 10 to 20 kilometers away while the large trees in the 20-kilometer far birch forest fell (Belousov, 1996).  Along with the directed blast debris and force was the ash explosion that covered the soil. Since the area surrounding Bezymianny was snow-covered, the hot ashes melted the terrain as well as increase the temperature in the surrounding area. The lava flow from the volcano charred the vegetation which further worsen the damages.

Gorshkov (1959) provided a vivid description of Bezymianny’s directed blast eruption. He stated that there was a tremendous explosion that destroyed the mountain top. The explosion caused the volcano’s summit height to decrease which changed its structure. The force from the directed blast created a mile-long crater in the surrounding area. Vulcanian clouds from the volcano’s summit reached a height of 24 miles. The blast impacted the trees within 15 miles and caused them to fall over. The nearer trees and vegetation burned due to the heat and lava flow from the volcano. The hot volcanic ash melted the six feet-deep snow. The directed blast caused avalanches and mudflows that affected the nearby river and valleys (Gorshkov, 1959, as cited in Bezymianny, 2010). While other research papers provide specific scientific data, Gorshkov’s account perfectly summarizes the aftermath of Bezymianny’s 1956 directed blast.

Since 1956, Bezymianny continued to show signs of volcanic activity. Recent data reveals that the volcano showed signs of activity in November 2020 and February 2021. The data is from the volcano’s lava dome growth. A lava dome is a mound inside a volcano that is a result of accumulating viscous lava flow (Volcanic dome, 2016). Bezymianny’s lava dome continues to grow towards its summit signaling a potential eruption. Volcanologists continuously observe lava domes to assess a volcano’s eruption stage. Bezymianny also exhibits strong fumarolic activity which is the emission of volcanic gases. This is due to the accumulating lava and magma beneath the volcano and their interaction with groundwater. These latest activities suggest that Bezymianny can potentially erupt and cause various effects on the surrounding area.

Bezymianny’s 1955 and 1956 eruptions resulted in massive damages to the volcano and the surrounding area. The event caused multiple earthquakes, avalanches, and ash falls that affected the local vegetation. The force from the 1956 directed blast eruption left a permanent crater around the volcano, changing the terrain. The eruption was one of the most violent volcanic explosions and resulted in various studies regarding the volcano. Today, Bezymianny is one of the active volcanoes in the Kamchatka region which makes it a subject of various geological research and observations. Due to its previous violent eruptions in 1955 and 1956, experts are wary of the potential damage that a new eruption can cause. The volcanic ashes, debris, and gases can cause various effects on the surrounding area. With the continued growth of its lava dome and the release of gases, Bezymianny may again inflict damages to the local terrain and vegetation.

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