Active volcanism in the Caucasus Mountains

You don't tend to think of volcanoes in the Caucasus Mountains, but Mt. Elbrus is a beast with a (recent) track record.


Mt. Elbrus in southern Russia, one of the active volcanoes in the Caucasus Mountains. (Note the prominent flow levees sticking out of the snow cover on the dacite lava flow in the middle of the image.)


Most people (including myself) aren't fully aware of the active volcanoes in the Caucasus Mountains, but sure enough, there are volcanoes that have erupted fairly recently (geologically-speaking). One of the active volcanoes in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia is Mt. Elbrus, just north of the border with Georgia, and it has erupted as recently as ~50 A.D., which for a volcano is the blink of an eye (well, maybe a long blink as blinks go). Elbrus is big - it is the third tallest volcano in the northern hemisphere and appears as a twin-capped composite volcano (somewhat like California's Shasta - see the image above) reaching over 5,600 meters. Surprisingly little is known outside of Russia about the volcanic history of Elbrus beyond the most recent eruption almost 2,000 years ago, but it appears to behave much like many continental composite volcanoes - dacitic lava flows (one of which travelled 24 km), explosive eruptions and, currently, weak fumarolic activity and hot springs on the edifice itself. Some very recent research on Elbrus suggests the volcano has been active for over 200,000 years and might be a candidate for a caldera-collapse eruption (which wouldn't be the first in the area), but the latter is speculation.

All of this makes it surprising to stumble across a news article talking up the threat of an eruption at Elbrus. The title leaves much to be desired ("Scientists predicting Elbrus eruption") as the article actually goes on to say that scientists from the Elbrus Scientific Research Centre of Moscow State University noted that there is still persistent fumarolic activity at the summit of the volcano, suggesting that there is still magma relatively near the surface (within a few kilometers). The real threat at Elbrus is the glaciers and snow on the volcano that could catastrophically melt if the volcano were to erupt - thus the call by the ESRC for increased monitoring of the volcano - both in the form of seismometers and gas measurements. Clearly, that sounds like a good idea for any large volcanic system with thousands of people living nearby.

Related Articles

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less

NASA launches ICESat-2 into orbit to track ice changes in Antarctica and Greenland

Using advanced laser technology, scientists at NASA will track global changes in ice with greater accuracy.

Firing three pairs of laser beams 10,000 times per second, the ICESat-2 satellite will measure how long it takes for faint reflections to bounce back from ground and sea ice, allowing scientists to measure the thickness, elevation and extent of global ice
popular

Leaving from Vandenberg Air Force base in California this coming Saturday, at 8:46 a.m. ET, the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or, the "ICESat-2" — is perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, and when it assumes its orbit, it will study ice layers at Earth's poles, using its only payload, the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

Keep reading Show less