Category: World / January 11, 2013 11:47 AM EST
An erupting volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia's Far East has drawn volcanologists who are using the event to research lava flows and eruption processes first hand.
Plosky Tolbachik, dormant for close to 40 years, started erupting in late November of last year, spewing clouds of ash up to 3 kilometres into the air, and spilling hot lava down its flanks.
"In the first years after the last eruption it was suggested that it would not erupt any more for hundreds of years. But it has happened," said Kamchatka volcanologist Mefody Maguskin.
The molten rock from Plosky Tolbachik destroyed a nearby recreational base, and set fire to a forest within the volcano's close vicinity. According to Russian media reports, however, there were no casualties from the eruption.
The eruption of Plosky Tolbachik is an opportunity for scientists to study a volcano eruption both on the ground and from the air.
A group of scientists built a camp 10 kilometres away from the volcano, and are risking their personal safety to work directly near the lava flows where some lava fountains reach the height of 150 metres.
The volcano, which is located in Russia's Kamchatka region, erupted in an unusual way - the lava and ash flowed not out of its main crater, but from the volcano's sides.
"Until now there haven't been lava lakes on Kamchatka Peninsula's volcanoes, we haven't seen them. And here we witnessed the start of the formation of such a lake," said Gennady Karpov, deputy director of the volcanology institute in Kamchatka.
The erupting volcano, which would be considered a natural disaster by much of the world, has become not only an object for scientific research but also a tourist attraction in this corner of Russia's Far East.
Some tourists have approached the flowing lava to have their pictures taken on a background of molten rock and burning trees.
The tourists, who ignore warning signs, and the danger of shifting lava, and hot falling rocks, are willing to travel long distances and pay top prices to see the volcano. It is a ten-hour car ride from the nearest settlement to Plosky Tolbachik's slopes. The trip costs some 20,000 roubles (about 650 dollars) for locals, and up to about 30,000 roubles (close to 1000 dollars) for Moscow tourists.
The last time Plosky Tolbachik erupted, it was active for 5 months, but it is unknown how long its current eruption will last.