Catching up with Kamchatka

The NASA Earth Observatory posted an excellent image today of the erupting volcano Shiveluch on the Kamchatka Peninsula. This isolated part of eastern Russia is one of the most volcanically active parts of the world, where multiple volcanoes erupting simultaneously are a common occurence. Many Eruptions readers have followed the on-again/off-again funding situation of Russian volcanic monitoring office assigned to Kamchatka and the northern Kurile Island - KVERT (Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team) - and seen the results to air traffic of some of these large volcanic eruptions. Just looking at the most recent Smithsonian/USGS Global Volcanism Program Report and you'll see no less than four volcanoes on the list (out of 18) - Shiveluch, Karymsky, Kliuchevskoi and Ekarma - while many others can be considered actively erupting as well - Bezymianny, Gorely, Ebeko, and Koryaksky. So, what is driving the volcanism in the Kamchatka Peninsula?


A map showing the locations of volcanoes along the Kamchatka Peninsula, along with the relative plate motion between the Okhotsk Block of Eurasia and the Pacific Plate. {Larger version}

For one, it is subduction - the process where one plate slides underneath another. In the case of Kamchatka, the Pacific Plate is subducting underneath the Eurasian plate in a spot of fairly complex tectonics. Two blocks (platelets?) exist between the Eurasian plate and North American plate along the Kamchatka-Kuril and Aleutian arc - the Okhotsk and Bering Blocks - and these two blocks meet halfway up the Kamchatka Peninsula (see below). 

A larger scale look at the tectonics at work in the Kamchatka arc. {Larger version}

The Pacific plate is subducting under the Eurasian plate at almost a right angle to the trench at ~3.1 cm/year - and in the middle part of the peninsula we also have the subduction of the Emperor Seamount chain (see below), the far oldest end of a hotspot chain that ends in the middle of the Pacific at Hawai`i. Another thing to keep in mind is that the Pacific Plate is very old (as ocean plates go) in the northwest corner of the Pacific Basin - some of the crust is Jurassic in age (>144 Ma). 

Locations of Pliocene-Quaternary volcanic deposits along the Kamchatka arc, also showing the location of the Central Kamchatka Depression. {Larger version}

Many of the most active volcanoes are part of the Central Kamchatka Depression - an area in the middle of the Peninsula - near the edge of the Pacific Plate (see figure below). It is thought that at this point, fertile mantle (mantle that can produce abundant melt) rises up underneath Kamchatka and is fluxed with water/volatiles from the downgoing Pacific Plate, thus producing more melting of the mantle. This double whammy means that lots and lots of magma is produced underneath the Central Kamchatka Depression, which is the home of volcanoes such as Shiveluch, Kliuchevskoi and Bezymianny - all very active volcanoes. There have also been suggestions that slab loss - that is the "catastrophic" peeling away of pieces of the downgoing slab - might be partially responsible for the high levels of magmatism/volcanism on the peninsula as well. The slab loss would cause hot mantle to be brought closer to the surface and generate more melt. Meanwhile, in the south of the Peninsula, melting is dominated by upwelling Pacific mantle, so not nearly as much melt is produced and the volcanism is much less active. So, it could be that the unique location on the edge of a downgoing slab might be one of the causes of the very active volcanism in the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Shaded relief map of the Earth in the Kamchatka Peninsula region, showing the relative plate motion and the locations of the active and inactive arcs. {Larger version}

So, it seems that the Kamchatka arc might have a lot going for it in terms of producing magma - fast subduction of a plate heading straight into the continent, fertile mantle underneath the arc, abundant fluids being released into the mantle and the potential increased heat for slab loss. Now, this is likely not the whole story for Kamchatka, but it does give us a start in understanding this very active volcanic arc.

Selected References:

Churikova, T., et al., 2001, Source and fluids in the mantle wedge below Kamchatka, Evidence from across-arc geochemical variation. Journal of Petrology, v. 42, pp. 1567-1593.

Levin, V. et al., 2002, Seismic evidence for catastrophic slab loss beneath Kamchatka. Nature, v. 418, pp. 763-767.

Portnyagin, M., et al., 2005, Transistion from arc to oceanic magmatism at the Kamchatka-Aleutian junction. Geology, v. 33, pp. 25-28.

Scientists find a horrible new way cocaine can damage your brain

Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.

Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
  • Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
  • Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Keep reading Show less

How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
Sponsored
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
  • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Keep reading Show less
Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.