Say 'Ah': Satellite Stares Down Volcano's Maw

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A new Oct. 20 satellite image from NASA’s Earth Observatory reveals the fiery eruption of the icy volcano Klyuchevskala, located on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. This is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, with 12 eruptions since the turn of the century. But because it’s remote, it is hard to see from the ground. So it’s hard to beat the lucky view from a satellite that can look right down its glowing red summit vent.

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This latest eruption, with several rivers of lava pouring out and ash and steam streaming away, was caught by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite.

Klyuchevskala has been a pretty reliably active volcano since August. The Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT) has reported a thick plume of stream and ash pouring from the 16,000-foot summit on October 11, followed by explosive eruptions, fountains of lava and earthquakes. Some of the more violent eruptions have shot ash and steam to rise from the summit as high as 7.5 to 10 kilometers (24,000 to 32,000 feet) into the air — where it can pose a hazard to air traffic.

The strange colors of the image are caused by the processing of some wavelengths of light, like shortwave-infrared and near-infrared, that are not otherwise visible to human eyes. Ash, water clouds and steam are gray. Snow and ice are bright blue-green. Bare rock and fresh volcanic deposits are nearly black. The red stuff is, well, really hot lava!

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To keep track of Klyuchevskaya, keep a watch on the KVERT daily updates.

IMAGE: NASA Earth Observatory images by Robert Simmon, using Landsat data from the USGS Earth Explorer.