Kamchatka geyser’s sudden eruption a peculiar challenge for scientists

Posted on 07 July 2009

The sudden eruption of a new geyser in Russia’s Far East has taken scientists by surprise, underlining the distinctiveness of the remote but threatened Kamchatka peninsula.
Kamchatka, Russia – The sudden eruption of a new geyser in Russia’s Far East has taken scientists by surprise, underlining the distinctiveness of the remote but threatened Kamchatka peninsula.

The new geyser – dubbed “Prikolny” or “Peculiar” in English – has appeared in the Kronotsky Nature Reserve, in Uzon Caldera, 14 kms away from the world-renowned Valley of Geysers.

A reserve ranger was the first person to see the geyser – a column of boiling liquid shooting three meters high. A short while later, one of the observers said “Prikolny!” leading to the geyser’s naming, which will now appear on maps of the region.

Research on the geyser’s sudden appearance is ongoing, although scientists already have presented theories on its origin, including that serious changes affecting the entire Uzon thermal field caused its appearance, or that it was created from rising water levels in the field’s spring.

“Some theorize that Prikolny Geyser evolved from a pulsating hot spring,” said Valery Droznin, a senior researcher in Kronotsky Nature Reserve. “The process of a spring transforming to a geyser is not unknown to science.”

Currently, scientists are measuring the temperature of the water, the periodicity of its cycle, its diameter, the depth of its underground structure and its exact geographical position to better understand the Prikolny Geyser.

“The new geyser functions near one of the reserve’s ranger stations and can be easily viewed from a tourist boardwalk,” said Tikhon Shpilenok, Director of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve. “The geyser erupts every 6 to 20 minutes, so is very convenient for observations.”

A geyser is a hot spring characterized by intermittent discharges of water ejected turbulently and accompanied by a vapor phase (steam), and are generally found in volcanic areas. Geyser activity is marked by periodical repetitions of phases of rest, water ejection, erupting of a water-steam mixture, and ending in calm exhalation until ceasing entirely.

The Prikolny Geyser is unique because it uses the same water over and over again. Water from the five meter fountain gets back into the funnel and then it "spits out" the same water again.

In Kamchatka, a large geyser field – the only in Eurasia – was discovered in 1941 in the Geyser River valley (Valley of the Geysers) near Kikhpinich volcano. Altogether Kamchatka had 100 geysers (20 of them of significant size) before a mudslide covered them in June 2007.

There are four large geysers fields in the world: in Iceland, New Zealand, the US and Kamchatka. The last time a new geyser appeared on Kamchatka was in the 1960s, and in the United States’ Yellowstone National Park in the early 20th century.

WWF has worked in Kamchatka for years in efforts to preserve the region’s unique volcanoes and thermal springs, which also houses a large population of polar bears. Kamchatka’s rich natural resources face threats from poaching, destructive tourism, and potential oil developments.

“In June 2007, a mudslide wiped out half of Russia’s geysers in the Valley of the Geysers, but in June of this year a new miracle has appeared in another part of the reserve,” said WWF’s Alexandra Filatkina. “We have the rare opportunity to witness these natural processes as they become history.