Kamchatka, Tunguska and Taupo


  1. Introduction
  2. Kamchatka
  3. Tunguska
  4. Lake Taupo
  5. References


The internet provided me with a wonderful photograph of the volcano Klyuchevskoy on the Kamchatka Peninsula that I use on my Windows desktop; the link is in the References. This is a beautifully symmetric, snow-mantled conical volcano with a wisp of vapor from the crater, located at 56° 03' N, 160° 39' E, and 15,600 ft high. I wanted to find out a little about the two Siberian places that are the subject of this article, and the internet furnished some interesting information, which I will summarize here. I have also added the New Zealand volcanic site of Lake Taupo. Kamchakta was of interest because of its volcanic activity, especially geysers, and Tunguska for the remarkable events of 1908, that I wished to recall, and also to find out where, exactly, it took place, and how close it was to Kamchatka. For photographs, the reader is referred to the websites, which have them in great number.

If I wanted to see anything in the webcam, it would have to be daytime in Kamchatka, so I would have to figure out the relation between Denver time and Kamchatka time. Denver is in time zone -7, Kamchatka in +12, and the International Date Line is just east of Kamchatka. Well, the best aid to people who are as easily confused as I am in questions such as these is the time diagram, which is shown at the right. We are looking down on the north pole of the earth, with the Greenwich meridian drawn directly upwards. The earth turns anticlockwise, but is is simpler to consider the sun as moving clockwise, once around in 24 hours. Also, civil time is 12h different from sun time, so that 12h, noon, comes when the sun is directly overhead. The sun as shown makes it 22h in Greenwich, say on Tuesday. In two more hours it will be 0h Wednesday. Denver is 7h away from Greenwich, and we see that 7h subtracted from 22h is 15h, the local time in Denver, with the sun 3h past the meridian. The Kamchatka meridian is drawn exactly opposite the Greenwich meridan. It is actually closer to 160° than 180°, but is in the +12 time zone, west of the Date Line. The sun is 2h before the meridian, so it is 10h local time in Kamchatka. Since we cross the Date Line, it is actually Wednesday.

We can show that this is not really strange. Moscow is in zone +3, so the time there is 1h Wednesday (we have gone past midnight), and this squares with the sun's being 1h past midnight on the other side of the world. It gets later and later as we move eastward from Moscow towards Kamchatka. If we imagine ourselves moving rapidly, we see the dawn, then the sun rises, and at 10h Wednesday we are in Kamchatka. If we start in Kamchatka and fly swiftly westward, we soar past Moscow at local time 1h Wednesday, Greenwich 22h the day before, Tuesday, Denver at 15h, pass the sun somewhere in the Pacific, and gain a day as we pass the Date Line. It all works out splendidly. Therefore, I see that Kamchatka is 5h earlier than Denver time. It's 7am there when it is noon in Denver.


The Kamchatka Peninsula is about as far as you can get from Moscow in Russia. It is at the far eastern edge of Siberia, closer to Denver than it is to Moscow. In fact, it is about as far from here in Denver to London as it is from Kamchatka to Moscow. It is nine time zones later than Moscow, so that when Muscovites are drinking their morning tea it is time for the evening meal in Kamchatka. Kamchatka became a part of Russia in 1699, during the expansion that ranged as far as Alaska. Kamchatka lies between 50°N and 60°N, about the same range of latitude as the Province of Saskatchewan, and at 160°E longitude. It is about 750 miles long north to south, and 300 miles east to west. The capital of Kamchatka oblast is Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, on the southeast coast. This city of about 150,000 is the largest settlement in the area. Kamchatka is a long peninsula, connected with the rest of Siberia by a narrow isthmus. The Bering Sea lies to the northeast, the Pacific to the southeast, and the cold Sea of Okhotsk to the west. The Kurile Islands trace a dotted line from the southern tip of Kamchatka to Hokkaido, and across the water to the southwest is the island of Sakhalin. This region is generally poorly represented on maps, so a globe is the best help to understanding the geographical relations.

Kamchatka, along with a large part of western Siberia, is on the North American plate, which has a finger pointing south as far as Honshu. A deep subduction trench at the junction with the Pacific plate follows the eastern border, and along the Kuriles. It makes a sharp bend about halfway up Kamchatka, and then runs east along the arc of the Aleutians. The Pacific plate is being pushed under the North American plate. The boundary with the Eurasian plate is on the western side of the Sea of Okhotsk. Water carried down by the subduction is responsible for the melting and production of active magma at depth, whose surface expression is volcanism and earthquakes. Kamchatka is part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire," and the characteristic volcanic island arcs are well-displayed in its vicinity.

The average summer temperature is 10°C, the average winter temperature -8°C, and the climate is cool and humid, cooler towards the Sea of Okhotsk, warmer towards the Pacific. Two mountainous volcanic ridges form the major part of the peninsula, with plains of tundra on the west and cliffs on the east. The volcanic eruptions removed the support for the valley between the ridges, which has sunk to form a graben. The major river of the peninsula, the Kamchatka, flows northward in this graben, then turns sharply east to join the sea at Ust'-Kamchatsk. A lesser river flows to the southwest. The principal industry is fishing, in the rich north Pacific waters, like the corresponding Alaskan fishery of the United States. After the Caspian, it is Russia's greatest source of seafood. There is no industry, and as yet little mining, though gold mining is threatened. There is petroleum and coal, as well as pyrite and copper. The indigenous population was of fishing Itelmini and Ereni, but now the population is mixed.

There are over 300 volcanoes in Kamchatka, of which 29 are active, including Klyuchevskoy (or Klyuchevskaya Sopka), 15,584 ft, in the eastern range not far from Ust'-Kamchatsk. There are also some 200 geysers, mainly in the Dolina Geizerov, the "Valley of the Geysers." This is located in the Kronotsky Nature Reserve, or Kronotskii Zapovednik, which was established in 1934. There is also the Uzon Caldera in the same region, another site of geothermal activity. This fascinating area of the southern part of Kamchatka is accessible only by helicopter.


An event occurred at 0h 14m 28s UT 30 June 1908 near the Stony Tunguska River in Mid-Siberia, at latitude 60° 53' 09" N, longitude 101° 53' 40" E. On seismographs, it recorded like a 12.5 megaton air burst at 8.5 km altitude, and its effects were strongly felt over 2150 km2, one of which was the mass blowing over of trees. Since meteorite fragments were not found, it is supposed that this was something like a comet head, composed of ice and dust, that collided with the earth. Events of this kind would leave no geological record, so we have no idea how common they are.

I recalled this event, and wondered how far is was from Kamchatka. The answer is, quite a distance. The Tunguska event occurred about 400 miles north of Krasnoyarsk, in mid-Siberia. Of course, it has nothing to do with volcanism or geysers. This is a region of broad Triassic flood basalts and dark conifer forests. To the northeast lie the diamond fields of Yakutia, discovered in the mid-1950's, where there are kimberlite pipes very similar to those in southern Africa. Beyond Yakutia is the River Lena, flowing into the Arctic Ocean as does the Yenisei, to which the Stony Tunguska is tributary, to the west of the event site. Precipitation in this area is so small that snowfields do not accumulate; what falls is evaporated in the short summers.

The diamonds of Yakutia are an interesting subject. The Republic of Sakha, or Yakutia, has its capital at Yakutsk, and is inhabited by Yakuts. The temperature in this region has varied from -72°C to +41°C. It is a permafrost area, but the rivers flood in July. The photograph shows the Lena Pillars, 140 km southwest of Yakutsk, which extend for some 80 km along the river and are up to 150 m high. The image comes from the link in the References, and may encourage you to vacation in Yakutia. These appear to be earth pillars, and some of the protective caps can be recognized. The rock could be a volcanic tuff. The steep slopes are favored by the rigorous weathering conditions, and the river is at hand to carry away the detritus. Yakutia is rich in antimony, gold and silver, but Mikhail M. Odintsov discovered diamonds in kimberlite pipes of Devonian age at Zarnitsa ("flash of summer lightning"), 15 km east of Udachnaya, in the 1950's, and they have become a valuable source of foreign exchange, and a rich source of controversy and friction.

Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo occupies a volcanic caldera in the North Island of New Zealand, in what is possibly the most pleasant spot on earth (when the volcanoes are not erupting). It is almost exactly in the centre of the island. The volcanic area extends from a little southwest of the lake northeastwards to, and into, the Bay of Plenty. It is about 50 km wide, and 225 km long, including four calderas. The river Waikato, longest in New Zealand, flows northwards out of Lake Taupo, through a large caldera where it turns abruptly left and leaves the area. The smaller calderas of Rotorua and Tarawera, side by side with lakes in each, lie further northeast. River Tarawera, heading in the lake of that name, flows into the Bay of Plenty. The three volcanoes of Tongariro (6458'), Ngauruhoe (7515') and Ruapehu 9175'), the highest in New Zealand, are clustered to the southwest of the lake. Tauhara, Waiotapu, Tarawera and Kawerau are strung out northeastwards down the right side of the volcanic area. All of these basaltic volcanoes are active, as well as the rhyolitic caldera volcanoes, and hydrothermal features are widely scattered. The Craters of the Moon in the Wairahei Tourist Park is a notable area of hot springs, shown in the photograph from the website given in the References.

The eruption that formed Lake Taupo occurred about 26,500 BP, at the end of the Pleistocene. Another strong eruption happened in AD 181. Such explosive eruptions are typical of acidic volcanoes, which eject huge quantities of ash that forms a welded tuff that looks like rhyolite, but flows much more readily. The ejection of this material then causes a collapse into the space left below, forming the caldera. A similar thing happened a bit earlier at Yellowstone, creating the caldera there and causing widespread hydrothermal activity. There is no guarantee that the Taupo volcano is dead. About 8% of New Zealand's electricity requirements are met by the geothermal power plant at Wairakei, on the north side of Lake Taupo.

An impressive extinct volcanic cone rises in the western tip of the island, at Cape Egmont. Once Mount Egmont, it is now Mount Taranaki (8260'), near New Plymouth. There appears to be no volcanic activity in South Island. New Zealand is a bit of continent at the eastern rim of the Australian plate, not entirely a basalt island as many Pacific islands are. The Alpine Fault, which runs down the western coast of South Island, is a transcurrent fault like the San Andreas fault in California, although the rate of movement is about half, about an inch a year. The Australian plate to the northwest is moving northeastwards with respect to the Pacific oceanic plate on the southeast.

New Zealand was discovered by Captain Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642, and rediscovered by Captain James Cook in 1769. The Maori had arrived in large canoes from the direction of Tahiti in the 14th century, landing in the Bay of Plenty. The word "taupo" is Maori for "cloak," and there are accompanying legends. Somewhat earlier, people called the Moriori had arrived to make the moa extinct, but the Maoris harried them into peripheral islands and they are now as extinct as the moa. The Treaty of Waitangi was concluded in 1840, when the Maori accepted British suzerainty with ill grace, and European settlement began. The Maori now make up about 7% of the population. Placer gold was discovered in 1865 to join sheep-raising as the principal industries. The gold is now gone, but the sheep remain. Outside of coal and a little petroleum, New Zealand does not have considerable mineral resources, and is not a large manufacturing country, relying mainly on agriculture. Though only a small part is not mountainous and considered arable, there is much grazing land and hills for orchards, so lamb and apples of superior quality are exported in refrigerated ships. It is very close in area and population to the State of Colorado. The capital is Wellington, and other largest cities are Aukland, Christchurch and Dunedin. Aukland, at the very northern tip of North Island, now has over a million inhabitants. New Zealand is in the vicinity of 40° S, 175° E, a thousand miles southeast of Australia, and its time zone is +12, the same as Kamchatka's.


The webcam pointed at the volcano Klyuchevskoy can be found at Klyuchevskaya Sopka. This is a high stratovolcano, perhaps the most beautiful on earth, that is always steaming from its summit. There is often a haze that obscures the volcano, so that all you can see is the forested ridge in the foreground, but on a fine day the view is wonderful.

Good information on Kamchatka is available from Geography, but I warn you most strongly that the ISP host for this website is extremely predatory, and will push pornography, gambling, vibrating ads and other popular American entertainments upon you, so that it may be an unpleasant experience.

Tunguska is a University of Bologna website dealing with expeditions to the Tunguska site in 1999-2000.

Information on Central North Island can be found in Lake Taupo, with a webcam, maps and pictures, and a reasonable amount of information. Although this site is commercial, it is reserved and intelligent. Commercial sites with pushier advertising can be found with your search engine.

Information on the Sakha Republic and tourism can be found in Yakutia. The graphic of the Lena Pillars comes from this site, and I encourage you to visit it.

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Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created 12 February 2003
Last revised 15 February 2003