Bezymianny – Not so anonymous

Photograph by Alexander Belousov. In a 2005 photo the blackened cone of Novy peers out over the jagged walls of the crater created by the 1956 Bezymianny blast.

Picture the scene: an intrepid 19th Century Russian cartographic team is exploring the wilds of the Kamchatka peninsula, driven by a desire to map and record every feature. Armed with instruments and drawing boards they set up camp in the central valley. As they survey the mountains around them they point to one and ask their local guide, “And what is that one called?” The local man answers them with a ‘who cares’ shrug – it’s just a meaningless medium-sized mountain where nothing has ever happened. “I don’t know,” he says, and shuffles off. And so, because every feature must have a label, it is recorded on their map as ‘Bezymianny’ – ‘without a name’.

OK, that’s a flight of fantasy driven by schoolboy tales of when British explorers set out around the world. Lake Nyasa, for instance, almost certainly received its name in similar fashion. “What’s the name of this?” asks David Livingstone. “Nyasa!” reply the bemused locals, giving their language’s word for ‘a lake’. (In my imagination they answered along the lines of, “Duh, what’s it look like. It’s a lake, mate. Are you thick or what?” – and before anyone mentions it, the story of “kangaroo” being Aboriginal for “I don’t know” is not true!)

Photograph by Alexander Belousov. Two and a half giants of the Kliuchevskaya group. Erupting in the foreground is the magnificent Kliuchevskoy itself, while puffing away in the distance is ‘baby’ Bezymianny. In between stands the jagged, silent form of Kamen, itself a victim of a massive collapse.

In truth I do not know how Bezymianny came to get its ‘name’, but it is perhaps understandable that it was overlooked, as it is overshadowed by its giant near-neighbours, Kamen and Kliuchevskoy. At 4835 m Kliuchevskoy is Asia’s tallest volcano, and also one of the most active. Over 6,000 years it has built itself into a frighteningly beautiful edifice of near-perfect conical proportions – every schoolchild’s idea of a volcano. Kamen stands 4585 m tall, although it was probably once even higher. Around 1,200 years ago it suffered a catastrophic flank collapse, but has lain dormant since around that time.

These two, along with Ushkovsky/Plovsky and Bezymianny, are the main features of the Kliuchevskaya group in central Kamchatka. This is a classic subduction volcanic area, its andesitic magmas produced as a result of the diving of the Pacific plate under the Okhotsk plate where they meet some 200 km to the east.


According to the GVP Bezymianny ‘was formed about 4700 years ago over a late-Pleistocene lava-dome complex and an ancestral volcano [Pra Bezymianny] that was built between about 11,000-7000 years ago.’ There were periods of activity around 4,700, 3,500 and 2,500 years ago, the latter a VEI 4 event. Sporadic events continued until around the year 950, when another VEI 4 brought activity to a halt, at least on a human timescale.

For the next thousand years the ‘nameless’ mountain slept. It had reached a height of 3085 m, and was a fairly typical stratovolcano formation of andesitic rock.

Photograph by Boris I. Piip, via KVERT website. Sadly this small image was the only one I could find of Bezymianny before the 1956 event. Piip was a pioneer of Kamchatkan volcanology.

Bezymianny’s awakening

At the end of September 1955 a swarm of earthquakes began underneath Bezymianny. They were recorded by a series of seismographs that had been installed by the Soviets in the late 1940s, primarily to observe the nearby and highly active Kliuchevskoy. A volcanic observatory had already been established at the village of Klyuchi in 1935.

After 23 days of earthquakes Bezymianny began erupting on 22 October with a series of explosive events. A crater of around 800 m diameter formed at the top, and a dome began to build in the crater as the eruption continued into November. On 22 January a worrying sign was spotted by observers in an aircraft: the southeastern flank of the mountain was beginning to bulge outwards. At the same time, analysis of photographs showed that the cone in that area was uplifting as magma intruded into a cryptodome.

In early 1956 seismic and eruptive activity began to decrease as internal pressure increased, the bulge continued to grow and the southeast section of the cone continued to lift. By late March it was estimated to have reached 100 m of deformation.

On the 30th of the month the inevitable happened. At around 17:05 an estimated 0.5 km3 of the eastern flank collapsed and the side of the mountain came crashing down. As the structure failed, it released the monumental pressure that had built up inside, fed by gas-rich magma from the bulging cryptodome.

As the mountain’s side slipped away, forming a devastating avalanche of rock, a cataclysmic blast blew out towards the east, flattening trees more up to 25 km away and spreading blast deposits out to more than 30 km. Following the blast Bezymianny continued to erupt violently, creating an ash plume that reached an altitude of nearly 40 km. Pyroclastic flows surged eastwards, following the rubble avalanche from the flank collapse. Subsequently lahars formed in the waterways at lower elevations.

Does this sound a bit familiar? It should do, for the 1956 Bezymianny blast was mirrored in many ways by that of Mt St Helens in May 1980. Subsequent research at both sites has shown that the deposits produced by these directed blast surges are very similar – and unlike any others found elsewhere. Stratigraphy showed typical deposits of pre-climactic ash, overlaid with flank collapse debris, above which were directed blast deposits, and finally pyroclastic surge and fallout deposits on top.

Bezymianny’s awakening was classed as a VEI 5 event, and produced an estimated 2.8 km3 of tephra. It left a giant crater in the side of the mountain measuring 1.3 x 2.8 km. Thanks to the sparsely populated terrain of Kamchatka, there were no recorded fatalities.

Photograph by G.S. Gorshkov, via KVERT website. Taken in August 1956 this view from the east reveals the sheer extent of the blast on 30 March, which blew out a massive horseshoe crater. Already the new dome in the crater’s centre is growing strongly. Compare this photo with one of Mount St Helens circa 1982 – the two scenes are uncannily similar.

Bezymianny rebuilds

Bezymianny’s first eruption for a millennium continued for another year before coming to a halt on 1 March 1957. By then, however, there were clear signs that the volcano was not going to sleep. In the vast crater left behind by the flank collapse and directed blast, a dome had begun to grow in the weeks after the blast. This became the centre of activity for the volcano as it rose from the ashes of its cataclysmic collapse.

For observers the wait for further dome-building events was not long, a small explosive/eruptive event occurring on 31 July. Since then the mountain has been highly active, erupting over 50 times. The most recent event occurred in March 2012.

Photograph by G.S. Gorshkov, via KVERT webiste. A year on from the cataclysm and the Novy dome is building fast. Gorshkov led the analysis of the 1956 event, determining the mechanics by which the blast had occurred.

Most of the eruptions have been small explosive events accompanied by varying degrees of lava extrusion and pyroclastic surges. Some have lasted for a day or two, others for months. In the early years solid obelisks were extruded, along with fine ash.

Since 1965 activity has been concentrated at the vent in the upper part of the dome and plastic lava has become more of a feature as the viscosity of the magma has gradually reduced over time. From around this time the larger explosive events also caused portions of the upper dome to collapse in their early stages, although subsequent lava extrusions have generally ‘healed the wounds’. The most explosive event since the 1956 eruption occurred in 1985, and produced a smaller directed blast surge triggered by a partial dome collapse. In this case the pyroclastic flows reached a distance of 12.5 km.

Photograph by Alexander Belousov. Volcanologists watch as a pyroclastic flow surges down the northeast flank of Bezymianny during the 1985 eruption, its direction channelled to the east by the northern wall of the old crater.

The topographical effect of these events has been to build up the central cone, which was christened simply ‘Novy’ (‘new’ – these Russians sure have a vivid imagination when it comes to naming). In fifty-plus years the rise of Novy has been nothing short of spectacular, and it now almost fills the area of the crater left behind after the 1956 blast. Photographs provide a graphic illustration of the growth of the cone.

Novy now stands at 2882 m, not far short of Bezymianny’s pre-1956 level. The height of the central cone has long surpassed that of the crater walls in which it has grown. If the ongoing eruptions continue, Bezymianny will have soon built itself back up to the size it was before the blast.

Photograph by Alexander Belousov. Up close and personal with one of the most dangerous volcanoes on the planet. This view, looking up at Novy’s steaming cone, reveals numerous layers of pyroclastic and lava deposits.

What happens now? The short answer, of course, is that no-one knows. Bezymianny could continue to grow past its original size into a Kliuchevskoy-like monster. However, just a look at the photographs of the steep-sided Novy cone, supported to an extent on three sides by the old crater but open to the east, and it is easy to imagine that another major flank collapse could occur at any time.

Bezymianny’s explosive potential – and its uncanny similarities to Mount St Helens (with its own slower-growing dome) – make it one of the most watched volcanoes in the world, especially since a comprehensive system of seismometers and GPS instruments was installed after a sizeable event in 2006. These allow the detailed monitoring of quakes and tremor, and also the development of any deformities. The volcano is routinely monitored from space to show up thermal anomalies on the surface, which have proven to be a good indicator of imminent activity.

Both Russian and US scientists are watching closely – what is happening to Bezymianny in double-quick time today could very well be the destiny of the more dangerously located Mount St Helens, albeit over a more leisurely timescale.

Acknowledgment: I would like to extend a special thanks to Alexander Belousov at the IVS in Petropavlovsk, who has kindly given permission for his photos to be used. Papers that he co-authored with Marina Belousova and other colleagues also provided much of the information for this short article. For those who may be interested in the deeper ‘science’ bit, notably the examination and research of Bezymianny’s pyroclastic deposits, many of the papers can be viewed at: For current photos, webcams and information on Bezymianny and other Kamchatkan volcanoes, see KVERT at


*I must state that, in terms of volcanology, I am still in infant’s school, and I stand in awe at the level of information presented here by many of the contributors. However, the recent activity at Bezymianny led me to read up some more about this volcano, and would like to have a go at sharing my fascination. What grabs my interest the most is the rapidity with which the volcano has rebuilt itself. The volcanic processes that are ongoing often take centuries or longer, but such is the level of activity that in Bezymianny’s case the process has been witnessed over a matter of decades, and can be visualized through photographs – no imagination necessary!

568 thoughts on “Bezymianny – Not so anonymous

  1. OT: But check out this photo of Mount Hood I took back in July of 2011. Mount Hood seen from the window of a US Airways Airbus A320 enroute from Seattle to Grand Junction, Colorado via Phoenix, Arizona in July 2011. My dad and I were coming back from looking at a car. Mount Hood is an active stratovolcano in Oregon. It is currently dormant. (sleeping). (Of course, I was in Seattle when Katla had her glacial flood)

  2. Is anyone outside sky-watching this evening – totally stunning – Moon by Venus, Jupiter lower, Pleides just above, Orion perfect…….aaah joy!

    • The moon Venus and Jupiter have set. Mars just made it over the house and i got a good glimpse. Saturn should be visible by now but in order to get a glimpse i would have to tear quite a few houses down. I think the owners might object. One of these days i ll build a flat in the third floor under my roof with a huge glass window in the roof so i can watch he star or thunderstorms while lying in bed.
      Off the my bed (which btw has an artificial nightsky above it, i combined and enlarged skymaps, painted all the constellations onto a plate drilled holes in the rigtht places for the most luminous stars and attached 150 tiny lights so i can look and learn whenever i am in bed.)

      • @Birgit-thanks so much for your advice,I have downloaded stellarium, and it is brilliant – at first I was looking for Tenerife as my setting,, but it wasn´t there, then I realised that if I looked for my own county….(not Country) there it was! Amazing, I now know with absolute certainty that outside my window now I see the moon Venus and Juptier, (they have not yet set – at least not here) and on the very far left, there is Mars…I am soooo very happy you gave me this brilliant link, can´t thank you enough . My very best regards.xx :):d

      • Ah Birgit!
        Your address please – we have had some road surfacing 10mm sieve slag for testing – I’ll send some next week if I may. You may need to crack some to get a fresh unbashed-about surface! There is a very strong sulphurous ‘aroma’ if heated! One or two chips have some Iron still attached – looks ‘rusty’!

        • Last name is Hartinger. Adress
          Ars Electronica Center, Ars Electronicastrasse 1, 4040 Linz Austria. And THANK you dear Henmaster 😉

    • Moon and Venus still low on the horizon -amazing sight. Just dragged the kids from the sofa to look. Even the PlayStation generation can be wow-ed by nature every once in a while!

      • @Birgit
        I occasionally see stars when I look up from my bed, but they are usually spinning and induced by cheap Merlot!

        Now I must go to sleep. Up very early tomorrow and off to the Land of Carl for a week and a half of enjoyable work!

          • Haha – well the nearest I get to civilisation today is Jarfalla (not sure if that counts). Then down to the wilds of Ronneby and Karlskrona this evening. Makes a nice change for me as my usual destinations are Linkoping and Vidsel.

      • Yep, here’s my photo taken half hour ago (this time without spot on lense, unlike yesterday):

        Click on photo for larger version.

    • Yepp, but it is blowing so horribly that I am worried that the glazed in balcony will shatter and the glas decapitate me… Makes life interesting.

  3. @ Carl
    May I ask please, what time reference are posts given – UK is now in Summer time (GMT +1hr) ‘n’ I’m confused!

  4. Guys, we got mad and will crash like a wingless bird. It feels so wrong to spend so much time with other things than the ones we love, good food and our passions. We want the best for our families and ourselves and end up like work-dummies. We get crazy about pointless issues like money. I don’t know the way out, maybe Bardarbunga will help. That was the doomy thought of my day.

    • Apart from it being complete hogwash and (mostly) the wrong people surviving, I found 2012 a quite cheery movie with 99.99% of humanity eradicated. With that happy thought to support me, I too might make it to the weekend. I’ll end with a nice little poem (Ogden Nash or Hillaire Belloc, cannot recall whom to credit):

      My fellow man I do not care for
      I often ask myself, whatever is he here for?
      The only answer that I can find
      is, the reproduction of
      his kind…


    • I have found that getting a real cold so that the nose runs, the throat itches, and you cannot pronounce any consonants get me my bearing in life back. Nothing gives perspective like blowing your toenails out through the nostrils.
      You wont die from it, but it makes you cherrish the small things again. Like ice cream, a good book, and generally having a half decent health.

      Also, I find that kicking some friends in the face helps a lot… We are some old martial arters that now and then get together and train a bit for rembrance sake. It normaly ends up in the sauna with beers, a bit of bleeding noses, and a lot better mood… I know, we are nuts.

  5. Something moved a little bit in Theistareykjarbunga.
    A lot of it is wind, but not all of it when looking at the live feed.

    Probably moving down the southern fissure swarm.

    • And this one is especial für Gelato Loco to cheer him up in the morning… Time for me to shleep…

      • Why? Whyyy? Do you hate me? That hurts so much. My loughing muscles are just killing me.
        Manking is amazing – and doomed, definitely doomed… 🙂

  6. Progressive hardware/softwafe failure ? Well, I do not know for shure. But searching for clues if anything unusual was visible at other stations – found no indication of correlation – but came across this:
    Seems there is massive inflation going on at “soho” (Sólheimaheiði), this is south-west “corner” of Katla Caldera.

    • Also the entire eastern volcanic zone is pretty uncovered.
      There are some nice and pretty much unknown volcanoes in that belt. The belt start with Öraefajökull, and contains among others Esjufjöll and a couple of more that has erupted post ice age.

    • What a lovely well framed photo Carl. It is so nice that on here people appreciate the true beauty of the night sky. For me there is too much light pollution to see things so well.

        • Oh dear. Done it again!!!! So very sorry Lurking and please take the praise I so wrongly attributed to Carl. I think I need to not post when tired (most of the time) as brain seems to stop working then.
          And Carl, don’t go getting wrong idea that my mind keeps using your name instead of Lurking’s. It is just that you are both so very clever with your discussions I muddle you up. Kids getting worried about my memory but I forget what there is to worry about so I never worry.

    • Now I understand the BBQing in the backyard. From the looks of it, it would take a bulldozer to get me out of it… 🙂

    • Would I go to Iceland if I could afford it, yes. Would I go to the Canaries, no. Why? Because of the respective attitudes shown. Iceland generously provides stunning views for free whereas ths Spaniards shut theirs down and tells me I should go there and see it for myself. On Iceland, you’d be a visitor welcomed to share their wonderful country. In Spain, it’s your money that’s welcomed.

      Great isn’t it how the Spaniards have revealed how they view other people…

      • Its sad to read how an outsider views and feels about the Canarian Islands and its even sadder to admit that their views are 100% correct.

        The pure greed of man in the case of El Hierro has been shown to the whole wide world and they are that stupid not to even realise what they have done (or dont care).

        Thank god for the internet and the young people on el Hierro who are still looking and reporting on facebook what they are seeing at La Restinga and the stain.

      • I am sad to say that I agree with your assessment. Such a total lack of care or thought for anyone who has an interest in the development of Bob. They have said she is dead so don’t let anyone come near to see signs that they are wrong.
        And Judith, I am so glad you stayed with us, at least you can read the Spanish comments on the internet and relay any activity to us.

  7. It’s not looking good. The El Hierro webcams are down and this comment appears on today’s AVCAN FB page:

    “Much to my regret by the official shutdown of all WEBCAMS, last post for comments on WEBCAMS. Today the sea is more quiet and time until 7: 30 pm in the timelapse video which was only thing is could see not be appreciated mancha – turquoise of the burbuejo, in the area from the mouth of the port, if the towards the previous days (7:20 h UTC) (Henry).

    A pity that has not used this activity to attract tourism, since volcanic activity has located the island on the map for many people who even knew that existia, webcams always bring people, the more adversely affected, as always, the population of iron.

    -Telephone http://​​/ => OFFLINE Webcams…
    http://​ => OFFLINE…
    -Webcam of the Ayto. Pinar – ACN PRESS – OFFLINE…
    (we are already not emitting, her have disconnected, a real shame) ”

    (Translation by Bing).

    Makes you wonder what is going on and what they are trying to hide. 😦

  8. Could the charts on purpose at themoment are being altered on purpose by IGN so nobody can see the truth of any tremor happening.

    Comment from Avcanfacebook by Avcan, The truth is that the tremor is not very well, but there is too much noise and with the network software, to analyze the spectrum of the signal, and making a study of the amplitude of the signal earthquake in real time or RSAM, I get zero precisely, is quite higher than other stations, now get 10-15% of the signal, while the rest of stations less than 1.5%… but as official data any IGN, they will know if there is a tremor or not better than me, I do not I get zero (Henry).,
    13 minutes ago · Like · 4

    • It’s unlikely that IGN are messing around with the data. They would lose their international standing / reputation if they did.

    • I have not been able to get any webcams whatsoever, have been trying every which way, it sucks. could have something to do with a large amount of Euro’s from Spain for the sustainable energy thingy, it is unreal they put it up in different languages to come and see for yourself, I have never in my whole life seen anything like it, movie star and telefonica isn’t any better either to put up with that crab. I will look fw to reading your posts, keep save

  9. March 26, 2012 – GUATEMALA – Guatemalan volcanoes Santiaguito and Fuego increased their activity in the last hours and the authorities recommended on Monday took all the necessary precautions with the surrounding air traffic. The dispersion of ash in various directions and changes in wind pattern led to the National Institute of Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology (Insivumeh) to warn about the civil aviation. An Insivumeh report that Santiaguito volcano recorded 33 explosions in 24 hours, with a range of up to 800 meters above the crater, leaving ashes scattered in the southwest and southeast. Santiaguito volcano is located in Quetzaltenango district, and its height is 2,550 meters above sea level. The Insivumeh reported white and blue plume up to 100 meters above the crater, with displacement to the southwest, in the case of Fuego volcano, whose height is 3,763 meters above sea level and is located between the departments of Sacatepequez, Chimaltenango and Escuintla (center south). –Prensa Latina

  10. NOw i never go again to Spain.from THE beginning you follow That eruption its Sad how politic manipulated i wanted to go to el Hierro but NOw im not going! anymore Judith congratulations with your 35 years we are 14 april 35 years Married. Nice day to all of you! The sun is nice shining here.

    • A commet found this morning on Avcan.

      ,,Good morning…. and my am secular in the matter I would like to tell me because the data are restricted and only accessible to managers if it is assumed that already the eruption ended, by that do not open to public other stations? If managers belong to public agencies do by to this occult makes no more than tangle more things and cause these discussions that lead to nothing? Science is not politics and are becoming a ring yourself by this secrecy, consider it a shame for external and amateur scientists around the world who are following this issue.,,

    • I tried to leave a comment, but the page won’t show up. 😦

      maybe in a few weeks when tourism doesn’t pick up and their web traffic goes back down to nothing they will get a clue.

    • Thanks for that Judith. I have just contacted them asking they reinstate the webcams. If enough of the watchers do this, maybe, just maybe, they will take notice.

    • Magnitude mb 6.1
      Date time 2012-03-27 11:00:45.9 UTC
      Location 39.92 N ; 142.22 E
      Depth 30 km
      Distances 217 km NE Sendai (pop 1,037,562 ; local time 20:00:45.9 2012-03-27)
      89 km SE Hachinohe (pop 239,046 ; local time 20:00:45.9 2012-03-27)
      38 km NE Miyako (pop 51,721 ; local time 20:00:45.9 2012-03-27)

  11. Good Morning or Shleep well…whichever is applicable.
    I feel grumpy……. No Canary Sunshine or Bob! Iceland is still dark so this means I have no excuse not to get showered ,dressed and start the daily chores.
    Nothing to note in Iceland except very strong SSW winds so allow for that if reading the tremor plots.
    @ Lurking that is an excellent photo. You have lots of trees round your back garden (That’s English for your back yard….a yard in England is a measurement of 3 feet or a stone/ paved area, usually behind a building. If the area around the house is grassy or cultivated in any way it is a garden.
    These small differences between the American and English Languages fascinate me as originally most early settlers in America came from the South West of England and listening closely, traces of that English dialect are still there including the classic American drawl. In Australia the original settlers were made up more from people in the South East and London hence the Aussie Twang. It sounds very similar to the East End of London dialect.
    I digress!!!
    (Just an excuse to put off chores.)

    @ Carl…. being Old and Grumpy is FUN…I love it. 😀

    • Great explanation of the differences between “garden” and “yard” in English. I had a wonderful old professor at uni who related the tale about the linguist who divided the variants of the English language into R-minus and R-ful. That is until he was made to realise that in an American accent the phrase “English is R-minus and American R-ful” would take on a whole new meaning. Undeterred, the linguist changed his definitions around until he got “old rhôtic” for Irish and Scottish and “new Rhôtic” for American.


      • And then we have the thing with “garden” and “yarden” probably being the same forn-nordic word. If you pronounce the word “gården” with a soft norse “j” you get jården, and that is same as the nordic word “jorden” (the soil) of a farm.
        One of the confusing moments when two different forn-nordic versions have exported the same word pronounced differently to the poor english.
        Gården (garden) is actually from the beginning the same as farmstead.

        • Sorry, “garden” is derived from French “jardin” BUT – not one linguist I’ve come across have made the connection Normand (as in Normadie) = Nordman (man of the North), and the word making the following trip

          gardh (Old Nordic) > gardhen (definite singular) > Normandic > French “jardin” > English “garden”

          Gardh travelled both east and west. In the east, in time it became “gorod”/”grad” as in Novgorod, Petrograd, Belgrad. In the west, it transmogrified into “guard”, “warden”, “to gird” etc. The Vikings have most certainly left a deep footprint in some of the great languages of Europe.

          • Professor emeritus (linguistics) Tryggve Skjöld has done that one.
            And since he is the most brilliant linguist I have ever met I go with his opinion of gardening 😉

      • So what is then the difference between the old erotic in Irish and Scottish, and the new erotic in American?

        Didn’t the dude get how it would be pronounced in all englishes?
        Yamehcan ehrotic mon.

        • American is awful (R-ful) and neurotic (New Rhôtic). I doubt he ever came across Djemeecan mon!

          • Must be my disdain for psychologists showing that I did not get the neurotic… 🙂

            And also shows my perverted mind connecting everything to making bacon.

        • Yes, it is.
          The uplift kind of imply that magma is entering to cause the inflation.
          It will be nice to see such a famous volcano erupt in our lifetime.

          I am also looking rather suspiciously over at Monte Nuovo that has had a sustained uplift of 50mm annualy since 1970. Same type of volcano (campi flegrei), but much more mature. A VI-5 in the middle of that many people will not be nice.

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