Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bogged down and bushwacked on Kamchatka

As the snow has melted, I find myself bogged down and bushwacked (19 May 2017).
When the explorer and journalist George Kennan (1845-1924) joined a reconnaissance expedition in the mid-1860s to survey a possible telegraph line from North America to Europe via Siberia, there was a reason they concentrated their overland travel in the winter.  This journey is chronicled in a highly readable, at times very entertaining account by Kennan, Tent Life in Siberia.  Don't let the title fool you -- their team spent most of their time on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Here is an interesting blog about the overland telegraph effort
Last Friday, 19 May, was the last day I managed to travel on the Avacha marathon ski trail via skis.  I had to take off my skis a few times to cross dirt patches, and I knew I would have to turn around once I reached a big, swamped marsh.  At the end of the day, near the main road at low elevation and with a southern exposure, I broke through snow into a muddy puddle and gave up on my skis.  Saturday it rained, Sunday was very windy, and Monday blustery.  By Tuesday, I was stir crazy... 
End of the ski trail -- it's swamped!

I took my trekking poles and decided to walk from the city to Lesnaya, the area (and beyond) where we have been skiing all winter.  I found a back street for some distance of the way; it was quite ugly in the near field with discarded debris as well as everyday litter melted out of the snow.  If I looked up, there were the snow-capped volcanoes -- Petropavlovsk is basically an ugly city in gorgeous surroundings. The second half of this 40-minute trek was along larger roads, noisy and dirty -- maybe if I knew the city's geography better, there was a more pleasant way to go, but at least I didn't get lost.

Once at Lesnaya, I wasn't sure what to do -- try to follow a melted-out ski trail (I was wearing hiking boots)?  Take the gravel road that led to some dachas?  For starters, I headed across the ski-area's open field, which was mostly low dead grass, and I only encountered a little mud.  But the ski trails from there up the hill looked too snowy, so I took a low trail over to the biathlon stadium, where I knew there was a maze of asphalt trails (which we had skied in snow in the winter), designed for summer sports such as biking and roller skating.  When I arrived at a fork where the ski trail went right and the asphalt left, up a steep hill, I saw there was a birch-forested slope I could go up instead!

All winter we had skied through birch forests as if we were a breeze.  I forgot that the snow covered various shrubs -- ryabina (mountain ash) on south-facing slopes, kedrach (shrub pine) on cooler spots, wild rose in drier spots and willow in wetter spots -- the willow thickets are usually separate from the birch.  And the floor on which these woody plants grows was a tangled mat of last year's tall grasses and flowers. So I found myself bushwacking --not as bad as many previous Kamchatka experiences, but what a shock after flying through the forest on skis.

After I thrashed up the hill, I punted and went out onto the asphalted trail, which was very serpentine, up and down, good exercise, surrounded by birch forest with some great views -- the city, its bay, and Viluchinsky volcano -- and in the other direction Koryaksky and Avachinsky volcanoes.  But this trail never gets too far away from the stadium area, and thusI could hear the incessant hum and roar of the main-road traffic.  I had a healthy walk and took the bus home.

Wednesday also dawned clear, cool and breezy.  It seemed a shame to take a bus to go for a walk, but I wanted to get out of the city, away from the dirt and noise, so take a bus I did.  At the Lesnaya stop, I had more decisions--repeat the prior day's trek?  Walk up the gravel road?  I decided I wanted the quickest route to escape the traffic noise, so I headed up the gravel road... but a few cars passed, and it was dusty, so... I veered onto the "zdorovye" (health) (ski) trail.  

What was I thinking...  I had worn teva-type hiking sandals (with socks) because my boots were pinching.  The first few hundred meters were mostly dry "road", but then of course there was lots of mud and melting snow and...  giant puddles and broad willow marshes.  I quickly gave up keeping my feet dry (the sandals are designed to get wet) and kept going, trying to stay in grassy marsh rather than muddy muck.  Some places were ok; sometimes I could veer onto a low ridge with birch and its underlying brush.  What was I thinking...   but I had navigated enough marsh and muck not to want to turn back, and I kept thinking it might get better; I sat on a stump and had a snack and thought about ... bears.  Before Tanya left last week, we talked about my taking a "bear flare" -- we use signal flares to scare bears away.  But I didn't.

I came to the spot on the trail where the gas pipeline crossed, and I thought I could take the primitive pipeline road till it crossed the gravel road I knew would take me back.  But the pipeline road devolved quickly into another quagmire.  So -- I figured my best bet at this point was to take the (ski) trail to Severo Vostok, a suburb of Petropavlovsk.  This trail also was a mess, partly because some stupid (drivers of) motorized vehicles had really mucked it up.  But I was not far from Severo Vostok, and from there I could walk on streets and find a bus.  I was mucking along when to my left I saw someone on a trail!  I veered over, and there was a footpath in birch forest, on which I soon saw bunches of people -- some headed out to collect wild garlic (cherem sha), some picnicking, some walking dogs...  it took me easily to a bus stop.

1) This was the vez dihod that was supposed to take us to our base camp in 2005.
It turned out not to be amphibious, and we got swept into the Mutnaya River.
Called a helicopter...  photos by Bre MacInnes.  In the left picture, I am wearing
rezinovye sapogi (hip boots)
1) Skis, snowshoes, reindeer sleds and dogsleds don't work when the ground is not frozen and snow-covered.  The best overland (motorized) vehicle in this case is a wonderful Russian machine called a "vez dihod" ("goes anywhere") -- they are even amphibious except when they are not...
2) Wear rubber boots -- they are your "go anywhere" ticket.
2) [and I knew this...]  If you go hiking on Kamchatka in the summer season (with possible exception of on volcanoes), your best footwear is "rezinovye sapogi" (rubber boots), of the hip-height variety.
3) Don't travel overland -- go by air or find a water route!
3) Put your vehicle on a ferry; find a river to float down; if you can afford it, take a helicopter.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Cherem sha! Eating wild plants on Kamchatka

Mostly what I remember as a child was being afraid of the possible poisonous nature of wild plants [I do remember collecting black walnuts from the tree up behind my grandma's house].  That all changed when I started working in the field on Kamchatka.

I did not go skiing yesterday in order to pick cherem sha -- two activities that are basically mutually exclusive.  I was on my last day of lowland skiing, knowing today it would rain heavily.  After a long, wonderful day of classic cross-country on snowy trails as well as nearly snow-barren ground that had been thick with snow through April, I broke through a snow bridge into a big puddle, and that was the end of my skiing.  As I removed my skis and cleaned them up, I noticed green shoots poking out of the ground on the side of the trail -- was it? It was!  --cherem sha, aka wild garlic, or ramps.  I became so enthralled with my gathering that I almost missed the last bus back into town, leaving behind hugs patches of cherem sha.
19 May 2017 on the Lesnaya sport ski trail (snow
patch in distance).  Snow retreats, wild garlic advances!
I first learned about cherem sha on a wayward backpacking trip in June in the early 2000s.  It was to be a recreational trip to Nalichevo hot springs, with a trail along the Perevalnaya River. But we -- my friend Sasha Storcheus (RIP) and I -- started on the wrong side of the river, crossing a bridge we should not have crossed, and wandered the back country for three days.  I had packed typical American-style backpacking food, mostly dehydrated, including "soyevo myasa" (dried soy meat).  I carried a liter of water, Sasha carried none because Russians don't, especially when the hike is planned along a river valley.  Instead we spent much of the day on a dry ridge, descending into a dry valley.  That's when I learned about birch sap.  Sasha took his axe (Russians always have an axe), slashed a birch, put a piece of grass into the slash and dripped sap into a cup.  We went on to camp in a wetter spot, and as I prepared supper, I said I wished I had brought some condiments, and Sasha pulled up some cherem sha that was within reach of the campfire, and our soy meat became much tastier.  Finally, on our way back down the trail, we came across paparotnik -- fiddlehead ferns, and I collected a bunch which Sasha taught me how to prepare once back in town.

Beach pea http://arcadianabe.blogspot.ru/
Cherem sha is the first to sprout up in the spring and can be found in cool spots at least into July.  I remember a salad we made of cherem sha leaves when we were at Mutnaya Bay.  We had salt and oil, and a squeezed lemon had washed ashore from a nearby ship, and we managed to get some lemony flavor out of it for our salad.  The other "local salad" that's common in our field is morskaya kapusta, (literally sea cabbage) -- a kind of kelp, Laminaria.  I remember the first time I had it, in our 1998 field at Soldatskaya Bay, prepared by Vanya Storcheus.  A third potential salad ingredient is the beach pea (Lathyrus japonicus) -- the name for pea in Russian is "gorokh," but we always just call this "beach pea."  Mostly we just shuck the peas on the spot and eat them, but occasionally we bring some back to camp to add to soup or salad.  There has been some question about edibility of beach peas; unless they are your staple diet, they are not dangerous.

Puchka grows really tall.  This picture is from the web:
A food I haven't eaten but which has been used as a food staple by indigenous peoples is the bulb of the local lily, sarana or saranka.  Another of their commonly used plants, puchka (Heracleum dulcewe have on occasion cooked and eaten--the stems are are celery-like. Puchka is one of bears' favorite vegetables.  It is also commonly our nemesis in the field, especially on sunny days -- its leaves produce a phototoxic chemical -- a reason you have to cover your skin while bushwacking and hiking amongst tall plants, even wearing gloves.  I tend to stomp it down in front of me--take that, puchka!  Only once I got a burn on my shin when we had a "vacation day" and I wore pedal pushers around camp. I have heard others' horror stories, though.

A fire-blackened teapot with a compote mix of
rose hips (shipovnika), ryabina (mountain ash), and a
few blueberries (I think golubika but many zhimolost')
photo by Bre MacInnes, 2005 Mutnaya Bay
If I maintain a relatively seasonal narrative, I should mention that the fresh tips of kedrach (Pinus sibirica) a shrub pine, are edible and supposed to be good for you.  I've tried them, I'm not a big fan. And kedrach is terrible to bushwack, it pariticularly challenged us in south Kamchatka.  On the other hand, in the autumn, kedrach cones generate wonderful pine nuts.  Another shrub with an edible part is a wild rose whose species name I thought I knew (Rosa nootkatensisuntil I read this.  In any case, I was told early on that rose petals from this rose make a good jelly/jam, but I never have been successful making it, so instead, in the field, I commonly just pluck the leaves and eat them--especially good when spotted with dew; careful to exclude insects...  This is another plant that have an autumn bonanza, in this case, rose hips, which are collected by locals for winter tea and vitamin C.

What's left (in my incomplete knowledge) are two giant categories -- berries and mushrooms/fungus (the latter including chaga).  Each one deserves its own write-up/blog (not to mention fish, fowl and meats), especially my absolute favorite brusnika, so I will just write about that one for now, after a short introduction to other berries.  In order of appearance/ripeness, in my experience the first berries we can pick and eat are shiksha, or crowberries -- another staple of indigenous diets, not very sweet or tasty, though with ripeness they are better; make excellent ingredients in berry pancakes, when that's all you have.  Next come blueberries, I can't determine which first, but the first I picked were zhimolost', a blimp-shaped blueberry with a fabulous taste and a deep purple stain; the other is golubika, a low-growing, classic-appearing blueberry [note that my experience is mostly coastal].  In the peat bogs, relatively early, you can find maroshka, known to us as cloudberries; they are ripe when they become pale pink-yellow, from a darker red-orange, and they taste a bit like yogurt or ice cream.  A late bog berry is, of course, the bog cranberry, kliukva -- I only managed to harvest kliukva once in a September field in Soldatskaya Bay, 2003.  Another later berry is ryabina, or mountain ash -- not particularly edible but can be used in jams and compote; commonly quickly gets riddled with bugs; grows in bunches that bears just trim off the bushes, including really near my tent one year.  Most of these berries are familiar in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, especially Alaska, but I was surprised that Kamchatka does NOT have salmon berries.

These brusnika are not quite ripe...
photo by Bre MacInnes
Finally, my favorite brusnika -- best known in the western world by its Swedish name lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea).  It is also called "low bush cranberry" and a bunch of other names, it grows in tundra-like conditions, including on our old beach ridges.  It ripens in the late summer, and you have to pay attention, because it can look red above and still be quite green on the underside.  A deep red is what you are looking for.  
Bre with fresh brusnika,
inset of freeze-dried version
And/but if you are lucky earlier in the summer, you can find brusnika "freeze-dried" from the previous year -- I remember at least a couple times where there were enough naturally freeze-dried brusnika that we could collect them to share or to cook with; they can be a bit fermented, which is fun, too.   Brusnika have a flavor akin to bog cranberry but more intense.  When freshly picked, they have lots of pectin, so the only decent thing to do is add a little sugar, bring to a boil (no water!) and eat by the spoonful with tea.  Second best is to do the same and put on bread or pancakes or in blini -- with smetana (sour cream, which we don't have in the field), omg.  Brusnika freeze well and are commonly available in markets here in Petropavlovsk, so I am enjoying them here this winter.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Kamchatka -- "island" cuisine

There are a number of reasons to "eat local" including 1) to support local agriculture and organizations, 2) to minimize one's (carbon) footprint, and 3) to lower the part of one's food budget that goes to transportation costs. Those who live in remote places know how expensive "imported" food can be.

Kamchatka is essentially an island.  There are no roads north toward Chukotka (which is itself is even more remote); there is no railroad.  So you and everything else either arrive by boat or by air --typically airplanes from Magadan, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Moscow,...  The Trans-Siberian railroad terminates in Vladivostok.  Ships can bring goods from there.
Kamchatka is at the upper right corner of this map, far from any trains...

And, of course, Kamchatka is no tropical island, so...  given that I did not grow my own food here last summer, what can I buy at the store or at a kiosk that's "local"?  [Summertime, and in the field, are two different topics.]  I am not sure that everything I buy here in winter is actually grown on Kamchatka, but here are the basics of the products that could be.

Root vegetables!  A staple of higher-latitude diets and can be kept in root cellars -- potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, garlic.  Plus cabbage, from which you can keep stripping outer leaves as winter goes by.  I have yet to make borsch (not sure why not!), the most common soup in Russia and which uses all these ingredients; but most every soup I have made starts from the list minus beets (and not always garlic).

Pickled, dried or frozen summer/fall produce, of which the most common are what we in the US typically just call "pickles" -- cucumbers (agourtsi); I have a jar of pickled tomatoes right now.   Frozen berries, and mushrooms are common; many locals would have gone mushroom hunting in the summer/fall and dried or pickled some for winter.  Same for paparotnik (fiddlehead ferns) and potentially cherem sha (wild garlic, aka ramps).  Many will have made their own jams in the summer/fall, and/but there is a local company that is producing fabulous local jams, the brusnika (lingonberry) varenyi is to die for.

Dried herbs I mostly buy in envelopes, and likely they are not local, but I can buy fresh dill and parsley and a few other greens that are grown here on Kamchatka, in greenhouses heated by hot springs (e.g., from the village of Termalni).  Not enough winter sun for hothouse tomatoes, though.

Dairy products -- milk (moloko), yogurt, kefir, sour cream (smetana), tvarog (something like a dry cottage cheese), butter.  Tanya helped me identify the dairy products that are local; also, I can check labels myself, I read enough to be able to see the place a product is from.  The fresh milk only keeps a few days, which of course is one reason why other products like sour cream are common, and very common in cuisine.  I typically keep a back-up box of ultra-pasteurized milk on hand -- reading the labels I think most of them come from Krasnoyarsk region.  You can get from 1.5% up to 6% milkfat in these boxed milks!  I do not know of a non-fresh cheese produced on Kamchatka.

Of course, FISH and other seafood products, of which salmon is the most common.  Prices for these items have risen as Kamchatka exports more to other parts of Asia, as well as back to western Russia. Right now I have some locally produced pelmyeni (ravioli-like) in my freezer which are stuffed with salmon and calmari.  All kinds of smoked salmon and other dried fish.  I know all the Russian words for salmon (losos), better than I know the US words -- chavuicha (king), nyerka (the other red one), keta (chum?), gorbusha (pink, humpy), ...  If you like red caviar (kryasni ikra), which I do, that's very available.   Fish is best bought in specific fish markets, not at the supermarket.

Bread and many wonderful pastries and other bread products are locally made, but far as I know, the flour is not local, though almost certainly from Russia.  The flour I have on my shelf is from Kurgan, Russia.  Tanya showed me how to find the more traditional loaves of Russian bread, which is fab.

Chicken, eggs and pork are locally produced.  Beef is not, is a luxury in general, and is not common in local diets.  Lamb is used, e.g., for shashlik (kebabs), I am not sure how much of it is local. There is a local company (Agrotek) that produces many kinds of "kielbasa," a term used here for most cured, tubular meat products.  Another dish that uses lamb traditionally is "plov" (pilaf) -- the influence of the Caucasus region on cuisine is notable; Shamsa makes and sells its own lavash (flatbread).

Another strong influence on local cuisine is Korea -- many Korean refugees and immigrants have come to the Russian Far East, at least since WWII.  I am not a fan of kimchee, but you will find an amazing variety of kimchee for sale in large and small markets and in kiosks.  At the supermarket, there is an aisle of Asian specialty products.

Water -- the tap water here is excellent, I have not purchased bottled water, but if/when I do, I will buy Malki -- Malkinskoye, from a spring in central Kamchatka.  I was appalled some years ago when the supermarket put up a prominent display of Aqua Fina.

So--what else do I have in my kitchen and diet, and where is it from?

Fresh fruit -- I have bought apples and mandarin-orange types.  Should I buy apples from Belarus and Moldova or from China?  China is closer in this case.  So far, I have paid less attention to origin and mostly looked for apples that might be crisp and have flavor, it's been hit or miss.  The mandarins I have purchased, which are tasty, quite seedy and thus not very expensive, are from ... Pakistan!

Coffee--I brought a bunch of Starbucks and just bought Italian-roasted beans.  Coffee snob.
Tea -- Tea is the traditional hot drink of choice in Russia, mostly grown elsewhere, but there is a whole aisle of teas at the supermarket, and there are specialty shops for tea.

Chocolate and other confections--Russia has a long tradition of producing chocolate and chocolate sweets, likely stemming originally from French influence.  Chocolate confections are a major shopping/gift item for Russians, as are "confyeti" -- hard candies.  I "buy Russian" and my favorite chocolate and confections come from the two oldest makers in Russia -- Babayevski and Red October (Krasnii Oktyabr), the latter of which started in the 19th century but was renamed after the revolution.

Grains.  The most traditional grain in Russia is "grechka" which is commonly called "kasha" in the US, but "kasha" in Russian means more or less all grains.  Grechka is buckwheat groats, which are roasted for a flavor I haven't succeeded in finding in the U.S.  Besides potatoes and grechka, I have rice in my pantry; I am not sure of its history/source; its package mentions manufacture in Chelyabinsk, but it has English and many other languages on the box (yes, I bought a box).  I despair at finding decent pasta in Russia, despite the claim on some packages that it is from Italy, with all the right other words.  I also have a muesli-like cereal mix that's Russian in origin.  Russians in general do not like oatmeal, it's just for little kids; when you grow up, you eat grechka.

Sugar is likely to be sugar-beet sugar.  The most common cooking oil is from sunflower seeds and is too strong for my taste.  Sunflower seeds show up in many confections, and toasted seeds in the shell are a typical outdoor "snack" with the seed coats spit out all over the place...  Halvah made from sunflower seeds is more common than from sesame seeds, but sesame confections are not uncommon, another influence of the "middle eastern" region of the Soviet Union.  Nuts are expensive here; I put some walnuts in my morning cereal, and I have a homesick "splurge" jar of peanut butter -- from China.

The recent dust-ups with the European Union and the U.S. have made products from those areas less available and more expensive.  I have some parmesan cheese from Italy, some olive oil from Spain, and the aforementioned pasta and coffee.

Alcoholic beverages.  I also have bought some wine from Italy and from New Zealand, quite overpriced for quality.  I have not seen U.S. wine this year, it used to be in the bigger shops.  Local?  Kamchatka makes great beer and has some local vodka production, including from birch sap.  I've had some moonshine here on occasion, mostly in the field.  Traditionally, the wine Russians drank was "polusladki" -- half sweet, mostly from Moldova; some drier wines have been available from Georgia.  "Champagne" is commonly a drink of choice for celebrations (and if you eschew vodka); the best cognac not way out of price range comes from Armenia.

Let me know if you have questions.  I'll write another blog some time about how and what we eat on our field excursions.  And in the summer/fall on Kamchatka, there are many wonderful "domashni" (home grown) products, and I've done quite a bit of berry and mushroom picking myself.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Avachinsky Volcano

From the International Space Station  ISS 2 May 2011 Avachinsky
Oblique view from south of Avachinsky active (left) and inactive Kozelsky (right)

Saturday 25 February 2017 ski trail from Lesnaya to foothills of Avachinsky.  Tanya Pinegina skiing, JB photo.
Saturday we skied to the foothills of Avachinsky volcano (“Avacha”), the active stratovolcano just north of Petropavlovsk.  Indeed, much of the city of Petropavlovsk sits on an extensive volcanic debris flow from the cataclysmic eruption of old Avacha about 30,000 years ago.  Truck-sized rocks from this debris flow emerge from the local park near our Institute and lie along the ski trail.
2010 winter view toward north of Koryaksky (left) and Avachinsky (right) from our office window at the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, Far East Division, Russian Academy of Sciences, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (JB photo)

Avacha's nearest neighbor, to the east, is Kozelsky, which is part of the Avacha complex.  To the west looms Koryaksky volcano, which is much less active than Avacha in Holocene times (last ~12,000 years). Active volcanoes, if conical, tend to have smooth flanks, as does the young Avacha cone, whereas Koryaksky is deeply incised by erosion, as is Kozelsky.  In all my years visiting Kamchatka, I have had innumerable views of these volcanoes, though almost always from the south side.  18th century navigators identified their approach to the narrow opening of Avacha Bay by the “three volcanoes” they could see from afar. 1851 crest of Kamchatka, to the right:

I did find a picture (above) in my scanned collection of an aerial shot I took from the north in summer of 1996 (note there is a large cloud that is not a mountain!).  It is easier from the north side to see that the active cone of Avacha lies within the much larger, former edifice of old Avacha.  The one time I was on foot on the north side, I could see Avacha’s and Koryaksky’s more intensely glaciated northern flanks.  On our way toward the pass between the two, we made the mistake of getting too high too fast and ended up crossing active moraines and debris-covered glacier snouts.  Not fun. 

Avacha has a long record of historical eruptions:  (2001), 1991, 1945, 1938, 1926, 1909, 1901, 1894, 1881, 1878, 1855, 1854, 1853, 1851, 1828, 1827, 1779, 1772 and 1737.  [The largest historical eruptions are in bold italics, the next largest set in bold; data from Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program based on work by Kamchatka geoscientists (references there) In the Smithsonian catalogue, Avacha is volcano 300100.  This photo (left, by Oleg Volynets) is from the 1991 eruption.  

From these data, as well as from analysis of surrounding topography and of the prehistoric record, Institute geologists have prepared a volcanic hazard map for Petropavlovsk and the surrounding area (map above).  These hazards include lava flow, pyroclastic flow, debris avalanche, eruptive blast, debris flow, mudflow (lahar) and volcanic ash/cinder fall.  For most of these, being farther away and higher is safer, but ash falls are primarily directed by winds at the time of eruption, so their primary direction can be quite variable.  Link to the above map.  Legend for this map

The cinder and ash (tephra) deposits from historical eruptions have been used by Tanya Pinegina (tsunamis) and Lilia Bazanova (Avacha volcanic history) to help map out not only the tephra layers themselves, but also to use these layers to identify and map historical tsunami layers above and between them.  Their work has helped to determine which of Kamchatka’s historical earthquakes were the largest and most tsunamigenic. Such analysis is particularly important because the shorelines where the historical ash layers fell are also the ones closest to Kamchatka’s center of population (Petropavlovsk-Kamchatksiy on the map below).  I participated in some early phases of this work at Khalaktirka beach, where we could map out the tsunami deposit from the 1952 Kamchatka great earthquake because it lies almost directly above the 1945 Avacha ash layer.  To the right is a picture of Lilia (lower left) and Tanya (above) documenting some of the many Avachinsky tephra along a stream cut near Khalaktirka beach.        
Lilia Bazanova with her colleagues Olga Braitseva and others have also worked out a long prehistoric record of eruptions of Avachinsky volcano.  Given its historical record, it is not surprising that Avacha has generated volcanic debris deposits and/or mappable tephra layers every couple of centuries or so – the record is more difficult to tease out the farther back in time because the layers are obscured by plant roots, weathering and other soil processes.  Several of these layers record eruptions larger than any of the historical ones, including an eruption that sent ash as far as Ust’ Kamchatsk (see map below).  We use layers from these eruptions to work out the prehistory of tsunami deposits and their generating earthquakes.  That is “paleotsunami” analysis—I had to get the word paleotsunami in here because that’s in the name of my blog!

One could certainly get the impression from the pictures thus far posted here that Avachinsky is one big snow cone. However, I found this picture by Vera Ponomareva to show just how un-snowy it can be by end of summer. Vera constructed a website about Kamchatka volcanoes hosted by the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.
Climbing Avachinsky:  I was with a group of tsunami scientists, visiting Petropavlovsk in the summer of 1996, who attempted to climb Avacha on a windy, rainy day.  We failed miserably, not least because many of us were not really prepared for such a climb, despite the valiant cheerleader guide we had, Elena Sassorova.  More about these women geoscientists at this blog post.  On a perfect day in the summer of 2000, finally I succeeded in summiting, guided by Sasha Storcheus.  The cindery cone was frozen as we ascended in the morning and soft when we descended. I don’t have digitized photos of that climb—I was surprised to see the lava pool at the top and to see fresh sulfur deposits.

Photo left:  2004 by JB.  Photo right: on Tolbachik by Pavel Isbekov. 

Tragically, on 3 March 2013, our dear friend and colleague Katya Kravchunovskaya was one of three mountaineers who died while trying to help a lost tourist in a snowstorm on Avacha.  We miss her terribly.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Кот в сапогах -- Puss in Boots

 via Wikipedia
About a week ago, Olga invited me to join her and her two boys for a performance at the Petropavlovsk theater of

Кот в сапогах , Sunday 19 February at 11 AM.  

I happily agreed.  

Saturday was a day of intense wind and snow.  I still have no idea how much snow fell because it was rearranged so much by the wind into bare spots (old snow) and drifts -- a drift blocked the front door of my building, but someone had worked it open before I went out.  I woke up early on that Sunday morning and evaluated the scene as best I could, determining whether our theater excursion would proceed.  The wind had died down and the snow had mostly stopped falling.  My windows and eaves were impressively drifted.

My ktichen window Sunday AM
The eave of my balcony Sunday AM

We had a rendezvous spot at "6 km", near a large flower shop. Petropavlovsk is arranged in mostly linear fashion along the shore of Avachinskaya Guba (gulf or bay), and the locations along the main road are identified by their distance from the central post office.  The Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, as well as my flat, are located at "9 km" -- the bus terminal is at "10 km" which is also the location of the big Shamsa supermarket.  My other go-to shopping area is "8 km."

I determined to walk to our rendezvous -- that is, about three kilometers.  The main street was clear, and buses and traffic were running fine.  I tried to balance dressing for the theater with negotiating pedestrian walkways that went from cleared, to half-cleared to narrow steps to non-existent.  I wore snow boots and pants that would shed the snow.  Sometimes the walk is near the street and sometimes "inland" a bit, closer to shops.  I wished I had my walking poles, but managed not to fall, it's generally easier, in any case, to walk on snow than on the old ice that lay under it in many spots.  I arrived just about right on time, and we went to catch a bus.

Olga and her boys in front of the grand
"Kamchatka Theater of Drama and Comedy"
The boys were well dressed for snow, as were all the children I saw entering the theater.  I watched in fascination as all the snowsuits were shed and children transformed into little princes and princesses.  I did not get good pictures of those transformations before or after the performance. There is a huge coat/clothes check, clearly needed in this season. Once we left that area, though, I could hardly believe that it was a winter wonderland outside, children and parents--especially girls--dressed in flouncy, light outfits.

We were there in plenty of time to look around the theater, and we considered getting some second breakfast at the buffet, but decided to wait till after.  We looked in on the pre-theater scene, where groups of children were enjoying treats. Then we went up another level, where boys and girls were racing back and forth in a grand, wooden-floored lobby.  Good to get some physical energy out before the performance! 
groups of children enjoying a pre-performance treat at the
Kamchatka Theater of Drama and Comedy
It fascinates me to watch kids in settings like this theater, or the zoo, or a playground.  I am reminded of Lily Tomlin's character explaining to her space chums the difference between "soup" and "art", that is, the difference between a can of Campbell's soup and Andy Warhol's depiction of said can.  She later takes them to a theater performance, where her space chums decide that the audience is "art" and the performance "soup."  That is, they love watching the audience.  You must read this book. Wagner/Tomlin The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

Of course the performance was in Russian...  As I watched, and enjoyed the performance as well as the audience, I realized that I should have "read the libretto" before coming to the theater.  This morning I read a short summary of the original story, which comes from the Italian "Master Cat, or The Booted Cat" (ItalianIl gatto con gli stivaliFrenchLe Maître chat ou le Chat botté) (from WIkipedia).  The English translation "Puss" seems a bit... feminine, whereas this cat is a swashbuckler -- ok, let's not get into feminist issues here....  In Russian, a male cat is "kot" and that is the word used for the Russian version "Kot v sapogakh"   A dinimutive used for female cats is "koshka" -- more like "puss" to me.  I guess I should try to find out the history of translation... later.  
After the performance, groups of children were brought up on
stage to receive gifts for their participation

The performance was very energetic, of course, geared for kids.  They were most engaged when there was physical comedy, including early on, Kot's acquisition of his boots by someone throwing them, one at a time, from offstage, where Kot had clearly annoyed someone.  There was singing (taped and lip-synched) and lots of dancing.  The Kot was of course the star of the show.  At the point where Kot is trying to convince the King that his (impoverished) master is the lord of a large estate (which Kot has tricked away from an ogre), he enjoins the children to yell out his name as the owner of all the lands they are passing through.  The kids did a great job.

In previous visits, I have been to this theater for performances by a Russian men's choir, by indigenous groups of Kamchatka, and by singers of the "bard" tradition.  Now that I have been with Olga and her boys, I think I will make more of an effort to go again.  But Olga says the St. Petersburg ballet performance is already sold out.  You have to know what's going on and how to plan ahead; clearly music and dance are easier for me to appreciate than drama and comedy.  But next time, I'll "read the libretto."

After the performance we went for a walk in Petropavlovsk center.  All the fresh snow was beautiful.  The center has many historical buildings and monuments.  More on them another time.

Costumes on display in the theater.

Here I am in my semi-practical theater outfit.
Besides this, I had only a rain-type parka,
hat and gloves (checked at the theater),
It was snowy but not cold out.

Here are Olga and her boys at the theater.  

This is the entry lobby, with huge coat check to the right.
 Not a great shot, but you can see some of the various levels of kids outside and inside dress.

This is the February 2017 schedule for the
Kamchatka Theater of Drama and Comedy

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Does Kamchatka belong to North America?

On this traditional map of tectonic plates, Kamchatka belongs to North America
This past week has been a week of science -- Wednesday was "Day of Science" in Russia.  Russia has "Days of" many things, there is a Geologists Day, a Day of Volcanology, a day of the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatksiy, a Day of Fishermen,... and TODAY--Sunday 12 February--is a national day for healthy life, with skiing, Tanya says over 1.5 million people nationwide have registered for (cross-country) skiing events.  Avoiding the crowds, we went yesterday, when they were still setting trail and putting up bleachers at the ski center outside the city.

And I have learned that yesterday (11 February--ok, that's actually "today" at this point in the Americas) was/is International Day of Women and Girls in Science, declared by the United Nations. UN on women and girls in science.  I've blogged in the past about this topic.  For example Russian Women Geoscientists and from Hokkaido University, Girls be Ambitious!

For Science Day at the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, which is part of the Far East Division of the Russian Academy of Science (FED RAS), the director, Akademik E.I. Gordeev gave an introduction, which Tanya partially translated for me; I can understand words and sometimes gist, but commonly lose track and give up.... He talked about the state of the Institute and read the names of those receiving special commendation this year; he announced that everyone would be getting a 5000-ruble bonus, which caused a happy rustle in the auditorium.  Then the owner of the Shamsa supermarkets (I call him "Mr. Shamsa") pronounced some congratulations and presented us with a huge basket of fruit.

There were then three scientific talks, the first by a close colleague, Andrey Kozhurin, on tectonic geomorphology; I could understand much of it and discussed it with him later. The second talk was about HSE elements in Kamchatka petrology (I asked Tanya what were HSE, she didn't know, I just now looked it up on Google--highly siderophile elements).  He also used PGE, which I did figure out as platinum group elements.  I didn't understand much at all of that talk, but perked up when a map of the Kamchatskiy Peninsula was shown--one of our major stomping grounds.  The third talk was about seismic monitoring, with some details on recent Zhupanovsky volcanic activity and on the remarkably deep 2013 Sea of Okhotsk earthquake (Mw 8.3).  Then there was an archival movie about "volcanoes and life" -- it was quite romantic; I think it focused on 1970s Tolbachik eruptions; there was poetry composed and recited by one of the narrators, an Akademik volcanologist whose name I forget -- lots of facial hair.

9 Feb 2017 meeting at IVS with some young scientists;
more about them individually, later
On Thursday I met for the second time with our "young scientists" group (I have defined "young" as younger than I am 👵).  I gave a presentation entitled, "Does Kamchatka belong to North America?" -- an important plate tectonic question addressed by some of our group's research and publications.  When we submitted a manuscript to Geology with a long, convoluted title -- about an extruding Okhotsk block and coastal neotectonics -- the editors asked for a catchier title, and I came up with "Does Kamchatka belong to North America?", which, when the paper came out in 2006, gave us headlines around the world.  Here is just one example.  You can Google for more, and find a pdf of the article on Tanya's IVS site.  
Jody's photo.  Upper left to lower right:  Slava Sokolovsky,
Katya Kravshunovskaya (RIP), Vitya Morozov, Sasha
Storcheus (RIP), Kevin Pedoja, Viviana Alvarez, Tanya
Pinegina, Vanya Storcheus, Misha Egorov.

The first author of the paper is Kevin Pedoja, now a professor in Normandy, France.  This photo is from our Ozernoi field season, which was a classic in many ways, not least of which were the gourmet meals we had from fresh salmon, caviar, shellfish, wild fowl, mushrooms, berries, ... kak zhizn! (what a life!).  While Tanya's and my paleotsuanami group spent our time on low beach ridges, Kevin and Vitya (Morozov) would run up to the high terraces to get elevations and make observations.  This involved challenging bushwacking and not-uncommon bear encounters.  Then Kevin would become our "French chef" in the evening.

Here is the basic puzzle:  
The plate boundary between North America and Eurasia is well defined in the Atlantic (white line in picture to left); the mid-Atlantic ridge marks where the two plates move away from each other.  That ridge continues up into the Arctic, but loses character off Siberia.  There is not another distinct plate boundary between that endpoint and the boundary of the Pacific oceanic plate, which is subducting beneath the Aleutians and along the Japan-Kuril-Kamchatka (JKK) trench.

Our basic null hypothesis was that if Kamchatka belongs to the North American plate, then there should not be tectonic activity north of where the Aleutian chain collides with Kamchatka, which is also where the JKK subduction zone ends (the corner in the red line, above).  We have subsequently published two longer articles about this collision zone. By the way, Hokkaido and northern Honshu would also be part of the North America plate in this traditional model (see map at top of blog).  In recent years, other plates have been proposed in this area, including the Okhotsk plate, which has been relatively well accepted by now, and the Bering plate, which is not as well accepted.
In the 3-plate, older model, North America
encompasses Kamchatka, the Sea of Okhotsk,
and northern Japan.  We can call this our
"null hypothesis."
In the newer, 4- or 5-plate model, the Okhotsk plate
is being squeezed where Europe and North America come
together, pushing it (and thus Kamchatka)
 toward the east/southeast.

Much of our Kamchatka field work has focused on the area at and north of the Pacific "corner"  There have been some large historic earthquakes along this border, some tsunamigenic, which tends to support a 4- or 5-plate model.  As paleoseismologists, we have found a relatively high frequency of tsunami deposits in this region, comparable to or higher than some other subduction zones.  And as neotectonicists, we have found uplifted marine terraces that show significant rates of uplift indicative not of the tectonic quiescence one would expect in the three-plate model, our null hypothesis.  So, if you ask us, "Does Kamchatka belong to North America?" our answer would be NO.
Photo by Kevin Pedoja of (labeled) uplifted terraces north of the terminus of the Kuril-Kamchatka subduction zone.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A day in the life (Kamchatka field)

Yesterday (1 Feb 2017) I met with a group of young scientists at the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (it had different name/s back in 1998) --we will meet weekly to practice English and to learn more about international science.  The group ranges from (field) volcanologists to mathematical modelers; I forgot my camera....  I am excited to get to know them and will write more in a future post.  Yesterday we introduced ourselves, Tanya introducing me first in a long encomium (in Russian). Later, I told some of her story (in English, slowly and distinctly spoken), and of our history together. So I decided today to post an essay I wrote some time ago--back in 2000 or so, I call it "a day in the life" -- from our first Kamchatka field season in 1998.
This was our 1998 crew, twoard the end of a 35-km backpack out of our Stolbovaya site.  From left to right:  Vanya Storcheus, Roman Spitsa, Jody Bourgeois, Sasha Storcheus, Tanya Pinegina

“A day in the life”  from Jody B’s 1998 Kamchatka journal

            The Kamchatka Peninsula, in the Russian "Far East," is one of the most seismically and volcanically active regions in the world.  It is also one of the most remote.  Until about 10 years ago, Kamchatka was off limits even to most Soviet citizens, and visits by non-aligned geoscientists virtually unheard of.  With détente and perestroika, Kamchatka opened up in the 1990s, although bureaucratic paperwork, continued military sensitivity, complex logistics, and the unstable Russian economy were still significant hurdles to overcome.
            In the summer of 1998, for six weeks, I worked with Tatiana (Tanya) Pinegina on the Kamchatka Peninsula, just north of the triple junction, on the Bering Sea coast. We were looking for historical and prehistorical tsunami deposits in a frontier area.  My trip was supported by University of Washington Geological Sciences and the Russian Academy of Sciences, as well as the ingenuity and dedication of Tanya and her field crew.  Tanya, a researcher at the Institute of Volcanic Geology and Geochemistry in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, spent a month in Washington State in 1997, hosted by Brian Atwater (USGS, UW) and myself, so this was a return exchange. 
            Tanya's well organized plan to work on a shoestring budget was the single, most important contributor to the success of our field season.  We took public buses, hired local cars and motorboats to transport our gear, and backpacked and paddled to two remote sites.  Berries and fish we caught were important components of our field fare.  I've chosen one day from my journal and field notes to typify the experience.

5 August 1998, Soldatskaya Bay, Bering Sea coast. 
We get up fairly early, around seven, emerging from our sardine-like sleeping arrangements--five of us on a 1.5 by 3-meter platform in a 3 by 3-meter cabin dug in to the river bank.  The storm has abated, our clothes have dried, the river has dropped, the surf is quiet.  Breakfast, cooked by Vanya on the outside fire, is kasha, with (instant) milk and freshly picked blueberries.  The boys drink tea, and Tanya and I have weak coffee--we are running low, as we had to wait out the storm.  Vanya will stay in camp for the day, to guard from bears, to gather wood, to keep camp and to prepare food.
            We pack and dress for a long day.  I am still struggling to learn how to wrap my feet in partyanki, rectangles of wool used rather than socks by Russian field workers (soldiers, geologists, fishermen), before stuffing them in my rubber hip boots--standard footwear for the wet grass, marshes, and streams we commonly encounter.  This day we aim to the center of the embayment, heading ultimately for the 35-m-high terrace about 2 km from the shore.  After crossing the river mouth on foot (tide is low), we stop and pick "princess" berries (gnyazhnika--a kind of ground raspberry)--we are never in too much of a hurry to pick berries, this exercise providing not only part of our sustenance, but also one of our small pleasures. 
            The weather is pleasant, mostly sunny, the flowers are spectacular in their variety of colors and sizes.  Mosquitoes not too bad today.  First, Roma and Sasha excavate small trenches on the lower beach ridges.  As we work toward the back of the coastal plain, the trenches exhibit older and older volcanic ash layers, and some ‘candidate’ (potential, up for evaluation) tsunami deposits.  Before we reach the high terrace, we bushwhack through shrubs, hop over bumpy patterned ground, and traverse a spongy marsh.  We collect a pot of water from a slough, as there will be none up on the terrace.  Along the terrace front I can see five or six bear trails--places the grass has been flattened, recently.  We climb the slope and cross an open field to the edge of a birch grove, choosing the site for a 3-m-deep excavation (shurf), which Roma lays out.
            While Roma digs, Sasha builds a fire and boils water.  Tanya and I chat, write notes, pick berries, think grand thoughts, discuss ideas.  When I excuse myself to go off to the bushes, Tanya says, "Jody, don't go far, here lives bear."   Before describing the excavation, we recline in the tall grass and eat lunch--the last of our bread (somewhat moldy), freshly caught salmon and its caviar, prepared last night, caramel (boiled condensed milk, sgushyonka), weak tea.  A small shower blows over as Tanya and I describe the trench, then Roma and Sasha fill it back up, and we head north, toward another terrace.
            Sasha typically leads the way.  A volcano seismologist who grew up in the Russian Far East, he has spent much time in the wilds of Kamchatka and Siberia.  We follow a bear trail, for the most part, but veer right where the bear veered left, away from our terrace.  Soon we come to a slough we cannot cross, and we backtrack--Sasha's a good pathfinder, but the bear knew better.  On the next terrace, we repeat our actions.  I sketch a view of the mountains to the south--they seem to be tilted up and back toward the west--this area is very active tectonically, with many uplifted, relatively young terraces, and some deranged drainages.  Before dropping off the terrace, we pick more berries, mostly crowberries (shiksha) here, getting fatter and riper as the weeks pass.  You can strip 15 or 20 with a few swipes of your hand.  I wonder how the bears do it--Tanya says they eat the whole plant and spit out the branches.
            We head back toward the beach, crossing small sloughs by leaping, stepping on overhanging shrubs, bushwhacking till we find narrow spots.  Tanya picks another excavation spot, and Roma starts to dig.  Sasha is suddenly at my side, saying, "Jody, bear!" and turning me to face west, toward the terrace, orienting me to get a view.  I have not yet seen a Kamchatka bear (myedved), though I have seen many bear signs—bear trails, bear beds, bear footprints, bearshit.  I strain to look in the distance when a large brown head pops up above the shrubs, not more than 15 meters away, and then it is gone!  Sasha says he saw the bear, then the bear stood on its hind legs and looked our way, and now the bear, a big, old (light brown) one, is hightailing it away from us.  I want to see the bear some more, but Sasha tells me no, I don't, because the bear has smelled or heard us and is going away, afraid.  If it comes back, it only means trouble.  We carry whistles, bear flares, and two guns, but never have used them; these bears are solitary by nature, and here they are unfamiliar with and afraid of people. 
            We finish the trench description and head on, one more slough to cross.  We jump over a narrow spot, and then find ourselves on an island, with a wider channel yet to go.  Sasha leans over the slough, steps on unstable vegetation, makes the leap, successfully.  He takes Tanya's outstretched hand, and she reaches back to me for balance, making the leap, successfully.  To make a long story short, I tried next, and ended up waist deep in the slough.  Tanya and Sasha pulled me out, and I got down on all fours to dump the water from my hip boots.  The day was nearly gone (it was after 8 PM), so Tanya decided to send me and Sasha back to camp, while she and Roma did one more excavation. 
            I was wet, but not miserable.  When we got back to the river mouth, though, the tide was too high for us to wade across, so Sasha had to pump up the small rubber boat.  Big enough for one, we used it for two, as a ferry on these small rivers.  The pumping seemed to take forever.  A seal watched from the water close by--probably the seal who took bites out of the flounder and salmon caught in our nearby fish net.  (I always called a watching seal nyerpa nol-nol-syem – 007).  All we had as a paddle was a small shovel, but it was not far across.  Once on the other side, Sasha went on ahead to tell Vanya to stoke the fire.  When I arrived, Vanya helped me remove my boots and wet clothes, and gave me a big cup of kompote--berries boiled in sweetened water.  I warmed up quickly, eating some lukewarm salmon/rice cakes and noodles, trying to enjoy the spectacular sunset.  Sasha went back to ferry Tanya and Roma, and they returned with more fish from our net. 
As the sun set, around 10:30, the mosquitoes got thicker, and I retired to the sleeping platform, not even bothering to undress, and quickly dozed off.  Next thing I know, I am awakened by a rumbling, shaking sensation--an earthquake.  No one else has yet come in to the cabin to sleep.  Tanya starts yelling, "Jody, quickly, stand up!"  "Jody, quickly, come!"  I wonder, is she afraid the dug-in cabin will collapse?  Slowly I realize she is evacuating us to higher ground, in case of tsunami.  I am sleepy and tired and cranky and do not want to get up.  I "reason" that the earthquake was not big enough to make a sizeable tsunami.  I forget all the advice I tell folks living on the coast--if you feel an earthquake, don't wait, go to high ground!  I forget about all the people in Nicaragua (1992) and Peru (1996) who did not feel their earthquake (or barely felt it) and whose tsunami flattened their houses.  I only slowly remember that recently, two tsunamis in Kamchatka with high runup were amplified by earthquake-triggered landslides.  I reluctantly pull on my boots and follow Tanya and the others across the moonlit terrace to higher ground.   I begin to understand how easy it is to ignore warning signs of a tsunami, especially when it is nighttime and you are in an exhausted state....
            We chat in the chill night air, and hear a distant rumble but feel no more shaking—a landslide?  aftershock?  Waiting a respectable amount of time, we then return to our sleeping bags, calm down and finally fall asleep.  The next morning, there is no trace of a tsunami on the beach, but there are new bear tracks covering our footprints from the day before.