By Dan Oancea

 Located on the eastern fringes of the Asian continent and sandwiched in between the Japanese islands of Hokkaido and the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula the volcanic arc of the Kurile Islands is a result of the subduction of the Pacific plate under the Eurasian plate.

Some 700 brown bears (grizzly) were reported in 1987 as being residents of the 20 island archipelago which is also rich in other animal and plant life forms. The islands are dominated by the majestic and menacing silhouettes of no less than 45 active volcanoes.

Those active volcanoes are also responsible in keeping these Russian islands isolated and uninhabited even though their location is close to the mainland in a frequently traveled region of the Pacific Ocean. There is in place only one real-time seismic station – the bulk of the observations heavily rely on satellite surveillance which is not that effective in a region frequently covered by thick clouds that would easily mask ash clouds and thermal heat spots.

Why is it important to have real-time eruption data? Because Kurile’s volcanic ash clouds are impacting one of the world’s busiest air travel routes – check out what Boeing has to say about past incidents involving airplanes flying through volcanic ash clouds.

The USGS’ Volcano Hazards Program also provides examples and guidance – e.g. Danger to Aircraft from Volcanic Eruption Clouds.

A recent USGS paper is a must read for those interested in updates on the subject - geologists, volcanologists, concerned air travelers: Active Volcanoes of the Kurile Islands – A Reference Guide for Aviation Users.