Photo in the News: Russia's Valley of the Geysers Lost in Landslide

Geyser valley picture
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June 5, 2007—One of the world's hottest spots—literally—has disappeared in the blink of an eye.

Russia's famous Valley of the Geysers was buried on June 3 after an entire mountainside collapsed, according to the conservation nonprofit World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The landslide filled the Geyser River, which once ran freely through the unique vale (top), with millions of gallons of rock, gravel, snow, and ice (bottom).

The valley, located in Kronotsky Nature Preserve in the Kamchatka Peninsula, is one of the few places in the world where geysers occur naturally, along with Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. and sites in Iceland, Chile, and New Zealand. In Kamchatka more than 20 large jets and 200 smaller thermal springs punch through Earth's crust in a 2.7-square-mile (7-square-kilometer) area.

"We've lost one of the great natural wonders of the world," Laura Williams, director of WWF Russia's Kamchatka office, said in a statement.

The landslide was likely caused by an earthquake, as Kamchatka is located on the tectonically unstable "Ring of Fire" circling the Pacific Ocean, said Margaret Williams of WWF's Alaska office. Much of the peninsula, including the Valley of the Geysers, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the presence of almost a hundred volcanoes.

Unless the new river blockage is breached, the area will probably turn into a large heated lake. That may put spawning areas for salmon and other animals at risk, along with predators such as bears and sea eagles that rely on the fish for food, according to WWF.

Humans in the valley were luckier, however. A group of 19 tourists exploring the geysers escaped with their lives—but just barely, as the onslaught of debris came to a stop less than three feet (a meter) from their helicopter and the buildings they were occupying.

—Aalok Mehta

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