Massive volcanic eruption sends ash streaming toward North America

Caroline FloydMeteorologist

Ash from the eruption was even drawn into a neighbouring weather system.

The Pacific 'Ring of Fire' lit up in spectacular fashion on Sunday as a remote Russian volcano fired a cloud of ash some 16,000 metres into the air.

The ash plume shot so high it cut right through the cloud deck, making an impressive dark smear that stood out against an otherwise white cloud-filled field on visible satellite, as seen in the dramatic footage above.

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The Kuril Island chain sits along the border of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates (the North American plate wraps around the northern end of the Pacific Ocean into northeastern Russia). The Pacific plate is diving down into the planet along this boundary -- something known as a subduction zone -- and this zone is home to some of the most intense volcanic activity on Earth.

800px-Kuril-Kamchatka Trench USGS

Map of earthquake locations and tectonic slab movement. Image courtesy USGS.

Given that it's one of the most active seismic areas on Earth, eruptions are far from unexpected. But, on the flip side, there is typically little warning for any specific event since the region is very sparsely populated.