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Five JPL and U.S. Geological Survey scientists this week are joining a team of Soviet scientists to study volcanoes along Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula -- one of the most active and complicated volcanic regions in the world.

The joint study marks the first time that western scientists have been allowed in the southern Kamchatka region since World War II, and signals the start of new U.S.-Soviet program to better understand volcanoes in the Pacific's "Ring Fire" -- volcanoes and other tectonic features located along the edges of the Pacific Plate. The plate's boundaries include the western coast of North America, the Aleutian Islands, the Kamchatka Peninsula, Japan and New Zealand.

The Kamchatka Peninsula is both remote and home to sensitive Soviet military installations, factors that have discouraged study of the area's volcanoes by Soviet scientists and, until now, has kept the area off-limits to Western researchers. As a result, "Kamchatka is sort of a missing link in our knowledge of the Pacific Ring of Fire," said Dr. David Pieri, the JPL geologist who heads the American team.

"The volcanoes there are big, they're dangerous, and they do explode," said Pieri. Situated near a major air traffic lane that runs roughly along the northeast coast of Asia, the volcanoes often eject ash into the stratosphere, posing a threat to aircraft. Increased air traffic in the area warrants new studies of the potential volcanic hazard, Pieri said.

On this trip, the American team is participating in joint field reconnaissance mapping of the region with logistical support supplied by Aeroflot and the Soviet air force. The Soviet team is from the Institute for Volcanology of the USSR's Academy of Sciences, Far Eastern division, in PetropavlovskKamchatskii. The mapping will identify areas of interest for proposed subsequent joint airborne and orbital mapping of Kamchatka-area volcanoes and volcanically active regions in the U.S.

Participants from JPL are Pieri and Dr. Anne Kahle. From the U.S. Geological Survey are Dr. Jack Lockwood of the Hawaii Volcanoes Observatory; Dr. Dan Miller of the Cascade Volcanoes Observatory, Vancouver, Washington; and Dr. Tom Miller, Alaska Volcanoes Observatory, Anchorage.

Plans call for the Soviet team to visit the U.S. early next year for similar field work in Hawaii or Oregon, to be followed by more extensive joint field work in Kamchatka in late summer of 1991.

The U.S. portion of the effort is funded by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.

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