Kamchatka, Russia—One of only five places on Earth where a concentration of geysers punch holes through the Earth’s crust to spew boiling water and steam skyward disappeared under water within hours after a massive slide of boulders, gravel, snow and ice choked the Geyser River in the world-famous Valley of the Geysers in Kamchatka’s Kronotsky Nature Preserve, according to World Wildlife Fund. The four other places are in Yellowstone National Park, Chile, Iceland and New Zealand.
“We’ve lost one of the great natural wonders of the world,” said Laura Williams, director of WWF-Russia’s Kamchatka office. “Here on Kamchatka, where earthquakes and eruptions are the norm, the earth is alive underfoot, constantly moving and changing. It’s a chance for people to see the power of the natural world in Russia’s nature reserve. It can be physically violent and destructive, but it’s also the root of creation on our planet.”
Part of the Volcanoes of Kamchatka UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Valley of the Geysers is nestled in a canyon of a mountain river, where more than 20 large geysers and 200 thermal springs, vapor-steam jets, and mud-pots belch, boil and gush in an area of only about seven square kilometers.
Unless the natural dam is somehow breached, observers say it’s likely a large thermal lake will form in the valley. Photographers and rangers at the site felt the earth shake as an entire side of a snow-covered mountain collapsed, dumping millions of cubic meters of debris into the narrow valley for more than a kilometer downstream.
At the time of the disaster, 19 tourists were exploring the valley after being flown in by helicopter for a three-hour excursion to one of Kamchatka’s literal tourist hotspots. It was a miracle no one was killed, eye-witnesses said, as the landslide came to a grinding halt within a meter of the helicopter and buildings where people were located. An earthquake the night before may have triggered the slide.
Salmon and spawning areas in the watershed may be affected by the mudslide as well as other species like bears that rely on the salmon and other fish as a food source.
The Valley of the Geysers was first discovered in 1941 by Tatiana Ivanovna Ustinova, a geologist working for Kronotsky Nature Preserve. While she and her guide were exploring the valley, they were sprayed suddenly by a jet of hot water gushing from the earth. Now, 66 years later, nature has transformed the site.
Known in the United States as World Wildlife Fund and recognized worldwide by its panda logo, WWF leads international efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats and to conserve the diversity of life on Earth. Now in its fifth decade, WWF, the global conservation organization, works in more than 100 countries around the world.
NOTE TO EDITORS:
A high-resolution photograph of a geyser and low-resolution photographs of the mud-filled valley are available to accompany press stories based on this release and mentioning World Wildlife Fund. If used, appropriate credit must also be given to the photographer.