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The Valley of the Geysers in Kamchatka: Who? Where? When?

On N. G. Kell's detailed map of Kamchatka, published in 1926, there is an obvious inaccuracy: the source of the Tikhaya River is shown to be in the Uzon volcano caldera. In fact, the Tikhaya River, which is unusual in the Reserve for its placid character, starts in a small forest lake at the foothills of Kikhpinich volcano-that is, in an entirely different place. The Reserve's 1941 research plan asked geologist T. I. Ustinova to discover the exact sources of the rivers Shumnaya and Tikhaya. That incidental request began the journey to the discovery that changed Tatyana Ivanovna's life and made her world famous.

On 14 April 1941, she was exploring the Shumnaya river canyon together with laboratory assistant Anysyfor Pavlovich Krupenin and found a geyser. Later, it was named Pervenetz (First-born). At the time, no one in the Soviet Union suspected the existence of such a miracle. In addition, Tatyana Ustinova completed her expedition’s aim and proved that the Tikhaya and Shumnaya rivers do not begin in the Uzon volcano caldera. Just above the geyser, a huge waterfall breaks off of the Shumnaya. Here, the geologist discovered two small tributaries of the Shumnaya river, including a river of warm water.

But the Valley's discovery was still more than three months away from that moment!

In July 1941, Tatyana Ustinova was sent on another expedition toward the miraculous steam. She deliberately followed the middle stream with its mysterious warm water. She became the first person in history to descend to the Valley of the Geysers on 25 July 1941.

It's noteworthy that this last blank spot is the largest concentrated geyser region in the world discovered as the result of a planned expedition by a professional geologist. (For comparison, the Yellowstone geysers were discovered by a hunter; one of the largest geysers in the western US was discovered by mounted police; the Icelandic geysers in Europe became known from the stories of «travelers and gentlemen» and the New Zealand geysers were first described by a priest.

Therefore the Valley of the Geysers, like a few other unique natural landscapes, was not even known at the time of the Reserve's establishment in 1934. This was a very late discovery, and the efforts of the scientists involved brought knowledge of the area up to modern levels in a very short time.

Did you know that there are more than nine volcanoes more than two km high on the territory of the Kronotsky Reserve and South Kamchatka Sanctuary? (The volcanoes are: Kronotskaya — 3528 m, Gamchen — 2576 m, Kizimen — 2485 m, Taunshitz — 2352 m, Unana — 2192 m, Kambalniy — 2156 m, Visoky — 2161 m, Komarova — 2050 m and Shmidta — 2020 m.)

Kronotsky volcano is seventh-highest among the volcanoes of Kamchatka. It's 3528 m high. There are eight active volcanoes on the territory of Kronotsky Reserve: Visoky, Gamchen, Kizimen, Kikhpinych, Komarova, Krasheninnikova, Kronostky, and Taunshitz.

There are more than 800 bodies of water of different origins, including volcanic, on the Kronotsky Reserve territory.

Kronotskoye Lake has the greatest area (242 km2) and catchment area (2330 km2), the second-greatest volume (12.4 km3), and the third-greatest maximum depth (148 m) of any freshwater lake on Kamchatka. Its average depth is 51 m. It was formed from a powerful lava flow that partitioned an ancient river bed of the Kronotskaya river.

The graceful fir grove has been known for more than two and a half centuries and has long been defended by the people of Kamchatka. According to S. P. Krasheninnikov, indigenous people of Kamchatka faithfully guarded the unique «fir island» that exists today near Semyachicksky estuary: «The Kamchadals protect the forest…They treat the trees like their own elders…everyone who dares to touch the trees is cursed with death.»

The fir grove's origin is still a mystery, and scientific interest in the botanic phenomenon is high.

In 1901, V. L. Komarov, the eminent botanist and pioneer researcher of the flora on Kamchatka, identified this isolated fir in the only place it grows in Kamchatka as the graceful fir. This fact has been proven irrefutably by molecular genetic studies in modern taxonomy.

Now, the fir grove is less than 22 hectares in area. The maximum age of one of its trees is 225. The growing forest's average age is 130.

The Semyachicksky estuary is counted as one of the most important wetlands as a key ornithological territory.

Located at the reserve's southern boundary, Semyachicksky estuary is a 780-hectare shallow body of water.

The reservoir's swampy shores are perfect for nesting birds. Up to 150 pairs of Kamchatkan (Aleut) tern nest here, along with hundreds of pairs of ducks, shorebirds, and other waterbirds. Up to 1200 waterfowl species winter at the Liman pool. Huge numbers of waterfowl can be noted during migration periods: during the spring, 10,000 birds are recording each day, and up to 15,000 are noted daily during the fall.

244 species of birds, included rare and endagered species noted in the Red Books of Russia, the Far East, and Kamchatka, as well as the golden eagle, merlin, peregrine falcon and Aleutian tern, migrate through and winter on the Reserve territory.

Of these rare species of birds, the Steller's sea eagle should be noted. Forty to sixty pairs of these rare and very beautiful birds of prey, which nest only in Russia, breed in the Reserve each year.

The average wingspan of a Steller's sea eagle is 2.5 meters, and the diameter of its nest is 3 meters.

The three-mile protected water area around the Reserve is home to several rare species of marine aimals. Among them is the sea otter, whose fur is the most expensive in the world. Long ago, there were so many sea otters here that Kronotsky Bay was called «Beaver Sea», but in the mid-18th century they were wiped out. These animals appeared along the coast again in 1976 and are now gradually recovering their former numbers. The coastal zone of the Reserve is currently home to about 300 sea otters.

There are no less than 30 million types of insects on Earth! 3700 have been counted on Kamchatka, but not all species are yet known to science and many are still waiting to discovered. As of 1 January 2010, 1130 species have been counted in the Kronotsky Reserve.

Eleven of the twelve insect species listed in the Red Book of Kamchatka are found in the Kronotsky Reserve. They are the Feb sailbug, Kamchatka swallowtail, Aeneid Kamchatka butterfly, bedstraw hawk-moth, garden tiger moth, rare night butterfly, blue underwing, lime sash, Kentish glory, Kamchatka pilous beetle, Mackly carabus, sporadikus bumblebee, and Schrenk butterfly. Out of the twelve «red book» species, only one, the blue sash, is not on the Reserve.