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KAMCHATKA'S UNIQUE OBJECTS

Дата публикации: 18 сентября 2021
Автор(ы): Vladimir MOSOLOV
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Рубрика: ТУРИЗМ И ПУТЕШЕСТВИЯ
Источник: (c) Science in Russia, №2, 2011, C.103-112
Номер публикации: №1631985959


Vladimir MOSOLOV, (c)

by Vladimir MOSOLOV, Deputy Director for Science, Kronotsky State Natural Biosphere Reserve

 

In the southwestern part of the Kamchatka Peninsula along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean lies the Kronotsky State Natural Biosphere Reserve. The discovery of the Valley of Geysers in 1941 made Kronotsky well known countywide. It is also famous for the numerous population of brown bears, active volcanoes, geothermal natural complexes and hot springs.

 
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IT ALL BEGAN WITH SABLES

 

Early in the 1980s on the initiative of local hunters sable hunting was prohibited in the game territories around Lake Kronotskoye as the number of this valuable fur animal dropped dramatically. Actually theKronotsky Natural Reserve dates back to those days, even though it was officially founded much earlier, on November 1, 1934, when the Government granted it a status of a wildlife sanctuary of national significance.

 

Originally, the reserve was geared only to applied tasks--to protect the Kamchatka sable, wild reindeer, bighorn and otter. But when its employees discovered a number of unique natural objects, the range of research, expanded considerably (for example, in 1941 geologist Tatyana Ustinova discovered geysers in the valley of a small tributary at the Shumnaya River, and a bit later zoologist Viktor Gavrilov found a chain of new active volcanoes, one of which was named in his honor).

 

The reserve has lived through rough times. From 1940 to 1960 oil prospecting works were carried out over there--for this purpose a big settlement was founded. Moreover, feasibility studies were carried out for the construction of hydroelectric power plants.

 

In 1951 the reserve was closed down and reopened only in 1959. But it was closed again in 1961. Intensive hunting was permitted in the former protected territories, which led to a drastic reduction of the animal population compared with one in the neighboring areas. The wild reindeer was actually killed off; the population of bighorns was down and there were but few sables.

 

In 1967 volcanologists proposed to reestablish the Kronotsky reserve: they called for the preservation of the unique world of geothermal regions and the nature of the eastern Kamchatka. The initiative was approved and the status of protected areas gradually increased: the most valuable and unique areas of the neighboring territories made part of the reserve; security procedures improved, cordons were set up and hard-to-reach places explored.

 

In 1982 a three-mile offshore zone of the Kronotsky Bay became part of the reserve, which enabled scientists to protect rare species of marine mammals, such as the sea lion, sea otter and antur (insular seal). According to UNESCO decisions adopted in 1986, the

 
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reserve was granted a world status and included into the global network of protected biosphere reserves; in 1996 the reserve as well as the state federal game refuge South Kamchatka was entered in the list of the World Natural Heritage* in the nomination Kamchatka Volcanoes.

 

NATURAL RESERVE AND ITS INHABITANTS

 

The present-day territory of the reserve is a compact land area stretching for 160 km to the northwest and up to 60 km across, with a virgin dark coniferous taiga growing apart (about 50 thous. ha) in the valley of the Kamchatka River. The total protected area is over 1 mln 100 thous. ha. The territory is hard of access--no roads there. The southern boundary of the natural reserve is 150 km away from the town of Yelizovo and Petropav-lovsk-Kamchatsky, while the closest settlements are separated from the reserve by the rough Valaginsky Chain.

 

The major part of the natural reserve is mountainous. There grow Betula ermanii (Erman's birch) forests, elfin cedar and elfin alder. Tundras with bald peaks and stone placers are typical of the highlands with the glaciers and snow patches on the top. Volcanoes account for a unique relief of the terrain, 9 volcanoes are active, 17--extinguished; they occupy a quarter of the total area. The landscape is really impressive due to volcano-tectonic formations with active hydrothermal and gas manifestations, dead lava streams and slag fields. The seashore area is occupied by tundra plains and tundra-bog landscapes.

 

The weather is cloudy, rainy and windy: hurricanes, abundant rainfalls and long snowstorms are typical of this territory. In the mountains the mean annual temperature is from +2.5 to--5 пїЅC. For January the mean temperature is minus 17-21пїЅ, and for August it is +10-+ 11.5 пїЅC. The absolute minimum is minus 50пїЅ, and the maximum, plus 32пїЅ. A permanent snow cover is formed late in October, in the topographic lows it is up to 2 and

 

See: N. Maxakovsky, "Russia in UNESCO World Heritage", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2006.--Ed.

 
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more meters deep; by the third decade of May the snow melts away. The annual precipitation level is from 400 to 600 mm. On the western slopes of volcanoes facing the ocean precipitation is more abundant, up to 1,500 mm annually.

 

The plains are characterized by a humid marine climate. The level of precipitation here is up to 1,000-1,500 mm. The warmest month is August, the coldest--January (the average temperature does not drop below -9 пїЅC), the snow cover persists for 180-220 days a year. Strong winds are typical of the seashore area: the maximal speed is sometimes over 40 m/s.

 

The hydrological network is well developed; the total number of reservoirs is about 800. Almost all rivers, except for those making up part of Kronotskoye Lake basin, run into the Pacific Ocean. Most rivers are characterized by a pronounced mountain character, with rapids and waterfalls. The longest river is the Boga-chevka (72 km), the shortest, the Klyuch Goryachy (4 km). There are lots of lakes. The deepest fresh water lake in the peninsula is Lake Kronotskoye 372 m above sea level. There are unique thermal lakes in the caldera of Uzon* volcano and in the area of the mountain massif Tsentralny Semyachik.

 

Some areas of the natural reserve are hydrothermaly active with geysers here and there. In the deep Geizernaya River canyon, 6 km long, there are many hot gushing, pulsing and pouring geysers.**

 

Powerful eruptions of Kamchatka volcanoes are the main soil formation factor; these natural phenomena are accompanied by sand and ash precipitation (the layer may be a few centimeters thick). The hydrophysical characteristics of local soils are favorable for plant growing.

 

The flora is represented by taiga and pine forests and alpinoarctic vegetation. There are 767 species of vascu-

 

See: Ye.пїЅ Bonch-Osmolovskaya,пїЅ "Thermophils: theпїЅ Planet'sпїЅ Past, Biotechnology's Future", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2010.--Ed.

 

** See: "Tragedy in the Valley of Geysers", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2007.--Ed.

 
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lar plants; with 7 in the Red Data Book of Russia; 37--in the Red Data Book of Kamchatka; 4 species grow only there and never occur in other regions of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The local plant community is determined by such widespread plants as the Erman's birch, elfin cedar and elfin alder, as well as the pine purple grass and Kamchatka Filipendula. There are many grass varieties, sedges and representatives of the thistle family, but only few tree species. The natural reserve marks the northeastern border of the bird cherry, Harris's white-fringed orchid, Kamchatka elder and green pulp hawthorn.

 

The fauna is not diverse in its species composition due to the peninsular location of the reserve. There are no species of insects associated with coniferous forests; taiga mammals and forest birds occur for the most part.

 

The bird fauna is characterized by a relative variety of species (up to 45-60 percent of the species composition) inhabiting water reservoirs and the seaside area. These are representatives of the lamellirostral order and the charadriiformes (gulls, guillemots and sandpipers). Wetlands are inhabited by the anseriformes (up to 3.5 thous. pairs of 20 species) staying there in the periods of migration and in winter. As many as 69 colonies of nine species of sea birds are found with the total number of about 2 thous. pairs. At present moment 32 species of birds recorded in the Red Data Book of Russia, Far East and Kamchatka have been registered. Fish fauna of fresh water reservoirs is represented by migratory and semi-migratory species of the salmon--its population is the most significant for the local ecosystem. There are all in all 103 species in the protected sea zone. In the Tikhaya River, there lives a population of mikizha (rainbow trout) quite isolated from other populations, which could be rather interesting for genetic studies. In Lake Kronotskoye, live the landlocked sock-eye and some endemic forms of salmon trout.

 

UNIQUE NATURAL COMPLEXES

 

Side by side with the typical landscapes of western Kamchatka there are unique natural complexes in the natural reserve--unique not only for the Kamchatka Peninsula, but also for the whole country. These objects (11 in total) need a special protection regime, visiting schedules and continuous monitoring. Let's take a look at some of them.

 
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The world-famous Valley of Geysers. It is located in a deep canyon of the Western Volcanic Chain in the southern part of the reserve in the 6-km basin of the Geizernaya River rising from the bottom of the Kikhpinych volcano and inflowing into the Shumnaya River. Over 40 big geysers and about 200 pulsing thermal springs were known there in the past. The most powerful and striking geysers were given names by their discoverer Tatyana Ustinova (Pervenets, Malakhitovy Grot, Sakharny, Troinoi, Sosed, etc.), others got their names later depending on their salient characteristics.

 

The Valley of Geysers is both a geothermal and a natural complex comprising living and nonliving components. Thus, plant vegetation in underground-heated areas begins much earlier. The first spring plants and snow-free strips attract bears. In May, when the neighboring mountains are still covered with a 1 m-thick snow cover, about 15-20 bears forage about in the central part of the Valley of Geysers. A high number like that is on from May to June due to the active mating season.

 

Some species of birds also make use of underground heat--they nest on warm ground patches; for example, it takes Kamchatka wagtails less time to hatch eggs on such warm spots. Fledgelings grow and leave nests faster.

 

There are many examples of adaptation of plants and algae adjusting themselves to living in warm soils and on the surface of heated strips. There are about 300 species of plants, 83 species of birds and 27 species of mammals, over 270 species of insects living in the Valley of Geysers. Such high species diversity could hardly be found in other regions of the Kamchatka Peninsula.

 

Unfortunately nature, as it sometimes happens, does not spare its own masterpieces. On June 3, 2007, a strong mud-and-stone avalanche descended on the Valley of Geysers and blocked the Geysernaya river bed thus giving rise to a dam lake. Due to a water rise as many as 23 large, medium and small geysers, including Maly, Gorizontalny, Konus and others, ceased to be. According to expert estimates, the mud-and-stone mass covered 2.0 km2, and the volume of ground fall exceeded 20 mln m3. Little by little, with a gradual natural decline of the water level, the steam spring Malakhitovy Grot andпїЅ Pervenets recuperated. The

 
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Bolshoi Geyser crater stripped, but its performance totally depends on the level of water in the lake.

 

Another unique natural complex is the caldera of the Uzon volcano formed about 40 thous. years ago. Today it is a huge cup-shaped crater of 9x12 km across with the bottom located 650-700 m above sea level. It is enclosed by steep rock benches from 200 to 800 m high with the highest peaks of 1,617 m (Barany) and 1,311m (Krasny). The aboriginal population knew about the caldera of the Uzon volcano with its numerous hot springs and fumaroles from times immemorial (much earlier than about the Valley of Geysers anyway); the Kamchadals, Kamchatka's aboriginals, called it the Steaming Lowlands. The first scientific description of the local hot springs (1854) belongs to Russian geologist Carl Ditmar.

 

Uzon strikes researchers and visitors alike with its rich and multiform volcanic manifestations--over 1,000 thermal springs of different size, form and composition, including hot lakes and boiling caldrons, are located

 
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there. The total area of thermal fields is 0.6-1.2 km2, even though the main heat discharge is carried out through the reservoirs. At the moment, Uzon's life is manifested within five lakes where boiling springs, gas-vapor jets, mud cones, small volcanoes and thermal lakes are accumulated. The caldera of the volcano is a kind of natural laboratory where active geochemical processes are in progress that result in the formation of unique minerals (for example, uzonit, or arsenic sulphide, is characteristic only of this area). The colonies of blue-green thermophilic algae and thionic bacreria that decorate cones of numerous hot springs and currents with unusual colors play a significant role in minerogenesis.

 

The Uzon caldera fauna is also very specific. The local environment is very comfortable for mountain animal species (ground squirrel, rat hares, bighorn, reindeer). Species of the forest belt (sable, fox, white hare) are likewise found there. A high density of breeding birds is registered there in some years thanks to the warm environment. Moreover, hot streams are inhabited by extreme thermophilic microorganisms that show unique survival abilities.

 

One more unique complex of the Kronotsky Reserve is the bristlecone fir grove near the estuary of Semyachik River that has been known for more than 2.5 centuries and protected by the aboriginals as an outstanding natural beauty. In the Preice Age the fir was the basic forest-forming species in the dark coniferous forests of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Today such forests grow in the central part of the peninsula, some of their islands are still there in its Eastern territories. In 1910, a prominent botanist and the first researcher of the Kamchatka flora Vladimir Komarov (Academician from 1920) singled out the bristlecone fir with its only habitat into a separate species. And according to the results of present-day molecular and genetic systemic studies, the scientist had strong reasons to do so. At present, the area of the grove is not more than 22 ha, the oldest trees are 225 years old. Needless to say, stationary studies carried out there over many years should be resumed on the basis of modern technologies.

 

Lake Kronotskoye, as we already mentioned, is the largest fresh water lake of Kamchatka. It was formed through the blocking of the ancient estuary of the Paleokronotskaya River with lava materials from Kronotsky and Krasheninnikov volcanoes. Its catchment area is 2,330 km2, water surface--242 km2, average depth--51 m, maximal depth--148 m. It is the source of the Kronotskaya River, full of rapids and waterfalls in the upstream. The lake is the center of a unique natural complex with the 30 mln population of the fresh water red salmon and an isolated endemic group of the loach of three types. Species formation mechanisms in this isolated ecosystem are of special interest for geneticists and ichthyologists.

 

OBJECTS OF SPECIAL SCIENTIFIC VALUE

 

The larch forest in the basin of Kronotskoye Lake was considered a natural extension of the coniferous taiga of the Central KamchatkaпїЅ Lowlands over the Eastern

 
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Mountain Chain. A recent sporo-pollen analysis confirmed this hypothesis: a fir-larch taiga existed there for two thousand years. It was established that the only taiga forest in eastern Kamchatka is undergoing major successive processes; studies will enable scientists to monitor the dynamics of changes in the forest vegetation and collect data to make relevant forecasts.

 

The larch forest is also highly interesting as a benchmark object: as for the species diversity, it is the richest plant community in eastern Kamchatka. Dozens of thousands of hectares are under coniferous taiga, stone birch forests, silver birch thin forests, elfin wood formations and tidal poplar stands. The fauna is also varied: formed in extended mountain chains, it includes different biotopes.

 

Near the southern border of the reserve is the Semyachiksky estuary 780 ha large. It is a shallow water body of the lagoon type formed under the influence of the sea and neighboring rivers, with thermal waters flowing in. During ebb tides vast shallow areas rich in food show up; the swamped banks are comfortable for nesting (Aleutian tern, up to 150 pairs), hundreds of ducks, greybacks and other species. About 1,200 anseriformes inhabit the estuary in winter. Scientists register the densest colonies of these birds during migration periods: up to 10 thous. birds take rest there in spring and about 15 thous. in autumn. The Semyachiksky estuary is in the list of the most important wetlands resources as a key ornithological territory protected by the Ramsar Convention.*

 

PROTECTION OF RARE SPECIES

 

Living in Kamchatka are such rare species registered in the national Red Book as the sea lion, northern sea otter and antur.

 

Near Kozlov Cape is one of the largest Far Eastern reproductive rookeries of sea lions (family of eared seals)--up to 500 animals. This group feels fine within its habitat and demonstrates a stable growth--every year about 120-140 animals are born over there. Scientists have been studying the structure of the population and migration activity of these animals for more than 10 years.

 

The northern sea otter is inhabiting and reproducing in the littoral area of Kronotsky Bay: in 1976, after a one-hundred year break, sea otters came back. At the moment, the group numbers over 300 animals.

 

At present only few anturs (insular seals) are registered in the inshore waters of Kamchatka. In the reserve, in the inshore zone of Kronotsky Bay and along Kronotsky Peninsula there live as many as 180-200 rare animals like that.

 

But the most telling example of the reserve's role in protecting the game species from complete extermination is the northern reindeer. Some twenty years ago the future of these animals did not give rise to concern, but maladroit activities and loose hunting with no regard for the territorial distribution caused a drastic cut in its population. Deer farming in regions that originally served as winter pastures for the wild reindeer impoverished the fodder base. At present only about a thousand northern reindeer inhabit the sanctuary. And the future of the species fully depends on the status of the Kronotsky group.

 

Rare birds include Steller's sea eagles (from 40 to 60 pairs of these birds of prey nest and brood annually), golden eagles, falcons, peregrines, Aleutian terns.

 

To sum up: the Kronotsky Reserve is a unique open-air laboratory attracting a variety of specialists--mam-malogists, entomologists, ornithologists, seismologists, volcanologists... They are studying natural processes taking place in the sanctuary. Their long-term and diversified research is aimed at evaluating the condition of the benchmark ecosystem and at developing scientific principles for preservation of unique natural complexes, populations of rare species of animals, plants and the biological diversity of the biosphere. We are cooperating with many scientific institutions, the Russian Academy of Sciences among them.

 

The Kronotsky State Natural Biosphere Reserve enjoys a high environmental status both at the federal and at the international level. This region of Kamchatka must be preserved in its natural state for generations to come.

 

* Ramsar Convention on water-bog areas, which have international significance mainly for dwelling of water fowl. It was adopted in 1971 in Ramsar (Iran).--Ed.

Опубликовано на Порталусе 18 сентября 2021 года

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