— Searching for the Most Recent Eruption
There are many volcanoes in China, but very few are classified as active and even fewer have erupted in recent history. Some Chinese volcanologists are firm in their belief that there have been no eruptions in China for the past 100 years. The only challenge to this is a report of an eruption in 1951 in Ash Volcano in Xinjiang’s Kunlun Volcanic Group (also known as the Ashkule Volcanic Group). In August 2016, the author took part in a scientific research party travelling to 5,000 meters altitude in the wilderness of Kunlun Mountains, seeking evidence of what may be China’s most recent volcanic eruption.
The Ashkule Volcanoes
Sitting at the joint of three fault zones, the Ashkule Volcanic Group in Xinjiang is characterized with intensive geologic activity, creating an area that has some of the limited active volcanoes of China. The one in the photo is the Wuluke Volcano.
The towering Kunlun Mountains stretch across the northern edge of the Qinghai-tibet Plateau, where Xinjiang and Tibet meet. The environment here is harsh and people are few, but this is exactly what makes Kunlun such a magical place.
In the southern edge of the Kunlun Mountains there is a depression formed between mountain ridges known as Ashkule Basin. It is located in the convergence of three fault lines—altun Fault, East Kunkun Fault and Kangxiwa Fault. The movement of Earth’s crust is intense here, and it is one of the most seismically and volcanically active areas in China. This area is an unpopulated wilderness with a rocky desert stretching in all for directions, which hides in its depths Ashkule (also known as Kunlun) Volcanic Group, which consists of more than ten main volcanoes and dozens of secondary ones.
Ashkule Volcanic Group is located on the southern edge of Ashkule Basin at altitude between 4,700 and 5,600 meters, which makes it one of the highest volcanic groups in the world. Also, these volcanoes are relatively young, most of them were formed 2.6 million years ago during the Quaternary Period. Some have retained their pointed cones, but some have them sliced off by the violence of the past eruptions. Lava valleys and plateaus abound all around, covering almost 200 square kilometers. It is here that the controversial Ashkule Volcano is located.
The Phantom Eruption
Volcanoes are usually classified as “active” if they have erupted in the past 10,000 years. China has over 1,000 volcanoes, but active ones are few. According to the world-wide list of active volcanoes compiled by the Smithsonian Institution, there are just over ten active volcanoes in China—the main ones being Changbaishan, Tengchong, Wudalianchi, Jingpohu, Longgang and Ashkule.
On the 5th of July 1951, Thexinjiangdaily reported a very unusual occurrence: “At 9:50 in the morning, on the 27th of May, a volcanic eruption occurred in the valley to the west of Kunlun Daban (Daban means mountain pass), in the south of Yutian County. During the first eruption, a rolling thundering noise was heard coming from the top of
Through the Ancient Path of Keliya
Since the Tang Dynasty (618–907), the massive Kunlun Mountains have witnessed countless travelers trekking through the Keliya Mountain Pass. The mountains are the natural boundary between the Tibetan Plateau and the Tarim Basin, and the path is the only link between the two places. Even today, it remains the only choice if you want to step into the Ashikule Basin.
Small Volcanoes Standing in Lines
Usually, when lava underground erupts through a linear fissure vent, such an eruption leaves chains of small volcanoes. The photo shows a typical“volcanic chain”in the Ashikule Basin. the mountain, which was followed by a column of smoke rising from the summit. Three more such incidents then occurred in succession, with the interval of several minutes, but with no smoke being emitted. The mountain was seen as sending out smoke again several days later….”
This incident was an account by a road- building crew working in the area at the time. If proven to be true, then it is very likely that it was China’s most recent volcanic eruption. For this reason, this story has attracted a lot of attention from volcanologists.
The curious thing is that none of the several scientific surveys dispatched to the area managed to find any evidence of an eruption, such as new emissions of lava, shrouding the whole incident in mystery and sparking off the “eruption of Ashkule” controversy in the professional circles and a flurry of geological parties coming to the area to investigate. However, the remoteness and the difficult terrain made in-depth study so difficult that the May 1951 incident has remained an enigma ever since.
In August 2016, I decided to see for myself what happened in Kunlun 65 years ago. I would go to the great Kunlun wilderness together with a scientific party of local geologists, to look for the evidence of that mysterious eruption.
My colleagues and I were very excited, looking forward to the trip, but we also had plenty of concerns. Of course, any geologist would be delighted to
Range of Ashkule Basin Volcano Platform Lake Hot Spring Group Glacial