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Shiveluch volcano eruption in Russia smothers nearby villages in ash

The Shiveluch volcano, one of Russia’s most active, has erupted, ejecting a huge cloud of ash that has coated nearby villages and triggered aviation warnings.  

The volcano, which is in the country’s far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, began erupting just after midnight on 11 April, launching a huge cloud of smoke and ash into the sky, according to Russian authorities. Its last major eruption was in 2007.

Up to 8.5 centimetres of volcanic ash have settled in the village of Klyuchi, according to news reports.  

Danila Chebrov, director of the Kamchatka branch of Russia’s Geophysical Survey, told news agency Reuters that “the ash reached 20 kilometres high, the ash cloud moved westwards and there was a very strong fall of ash on nearby villages”.

However, the Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT) reported that the plume reached only 8 kilometres above sea level.

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If the plume reached 20 kilometres high, it may have penetrated the stratosphere, which could have consequences for the global climate. In the stratosphere, volcanic gases like sulphur dioxide can quickly condense to form sulphate aerosols, reflecting more of the sun’s radiation back into space and having a short-term cooling effect.

The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, for example, sent an ash cloud 19 kilometres into the atmosphere. It cooled Earth’s surface for three years following the eruption, by as much as 0.7°C at its peak impact, according to US Geological Survey.  

KVERT has issued a code red notice for aviation given Shiveluch’s ongoing eruption, warning that ash explosions of up to 15 kilometres high “could occur at any time” and affect “international and low-flying aircraft”.  

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It said ash clouds are drifting about 430 kilometres to the south and west of the volcano. Videos posted on social media show ash covering roads and cars in the district of Ust-Kamchatsky, about 90 kilometres from the volcano.  

The Kamchatka Peninsula is one of the most concentrated areas for volcanic activity in the world. Also known as the “land of fire and ice”, the peninsula has 29 active volcanoes. The Shiveluch volcano is thought to have erupted at least 60 times during the past 10,000 years.  

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