CLOSINGS: View Closings

Azerbaijan: Country of mud volcanoes

Azerbaijan has more mud volcanoes than anywhere else in the world: 400 and counting. CNN Travel goes on an off-road tour of volcanic sites

Posted: Aug 31, 2018 7:27 AM
Updated: Aug 31, 2018 7:29 AM

Stretching to the horizon, the gray-white earth rises in peaks like a well-whipped meringue petrified into mud and rock.

A keen wind whips these otherworldly hills, while the land underfoot is cracked and scaly.

This could be Mars. But it's Azerbaijan, the mud volcano capital of the world.

Oil-rich region

There are more than 400 volcanoes in this oil-rich country balanced between Europe and Asia, with more being discovered all the time.

Ten years ago, a 12,000-hectare State Nature Reserve was founded on the Absheron Peninsula near the capital Baku.

In July 2018, scientists from Azerbaijan's Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources took CNN Travel on an off-road tour.

Clattering up the precipitous slopes in an off-road vehicle is like a firmer version of the dune-bashing safaris popular next door in the Middle East. But the most thrilling sights are still to come.

We start our tour beside the mouth of Deveboynu volcano, or "Neck of the Camel." The land around is parched, but inside the crater, a muddy slurry -- called mud breccia -- is bubbling gently.

The hills may look peaceful, but below this humped, reptilian landscape, the Earth is breathing and turning like a slumbering beast.

Where tectonic plates collide

Mud volcanoes are usually found in subduction zones -- the parts of the globe where tectonic plates collide, sometimes causing earthquakes, tsunamis and violent eruptions.

Pockets of subterranean gas force their way to the surface, belching out methane and a muddy mix of water and oil.

Mud volcanoes never grow to the size of regular volcanoes. Most are small, ever-changing landforms, often accompanied by peculiar sculptures formed by the spewed out clumps of clay.

These whimsical shapes, says Jeyhun Pashayev, director of the reserve, are "like a picture made by a child."

Strange beauty

"When there are mud volcanoes, it means there are carbohydrogen resources in the deep," explains Pashayev. "As you see, there are lot of mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan which means there are a lot of oil resources."

The arid lands of the Absheron Peninsula might not be as fresh and lush as the mountainous north, but they have their own strange beauty.

This is the region richest in natural resources: both for oil and for the mud breccia, which is used in the chemical and construction industries.

"About 20 of the 50 minerals used in cement" are to be found in the volcanic mud, says Pashayev -- which meant that before the reserve was signed into existence, people regularly stole mud from the site for home building projects.

As we set out on the road again to our next volcanic field, Pashayev gestures towards a huge factory on the horizon, with a large hill of mud to its side. "This, Garadagh, is the richest part of Baku. Around 90% of the stones are being produced here for building the houses. Depending on the quality, it costs from 50 cents to 3 manats ($1.77) per stone."

Mud-bathing

Unlike regular volcanoes, there's no magma or lava, so the liquid mud isn't hot -- instead it usually keeps to a temperate 22/23 C (72 F).

That balminess means that some mud volcanoes are suitable for bathing.

Volcanic clay is sometimes used in the treatment of skin conditions, as well as rheumatism and diseases related to the nervous system.

Pashayev explains that during the Soviet era, the volcanic mud was sometimes used to create casts to treat broken bones.

"Also, you can get super results using the mud volcanoes for the skin," he claims. "You can use [the mud] and get good results, even if you have scars. If the cosmetology doctor can't disappear the scars, mud volcanoes can do this!"

Radioactivity

However, not every gray puddle is skin-friendly.

"Because it comes from deep," says Pashayev, some volcanoes "come with radioactive material. It's not a joke."

Pashayev's team monitors the levels of radioactivity regularly, with safety certification being awarded on an annual basis.

The subterranean world has fascinated people around the globe for millennia, and the strange, violent and seemingly inexplicable behavior of mud volcanoes has long captivated the Azerbaijani people.

The country is known as the Land of Fire -- while Baku is the City of Winds -- and some of the gas leaks in this oil-rich region are constantly on fire, such as at the perpetually burning mountainside of Yanar Dag.

It's believed that the ancient Zoroastrian religion, which centers on fire worship, was closely connected to this phenomena.

In 2001, Lokbutan volcano some 15 kilometers from Baku erupted, sending flames close to 50 feet in the air.

'A mystic thing'

"Mud volcanoes are a mystic thing," says Pashayev. Some years ago, a Danish sound archivist came to the reserve "with a huge device like a piano" to record the sounds from within the volcano.

What Pashayev heard shocked him. "I swear, I thought that this is Hell. I heard human noises -- really. Imagine thousands of people, crying 'help us!' from the deep."

With a similarly evocative turn of phrase, Pashayev also compares the wind sighing through a mud sculpture to the sound made "when you cut the head off a cow" -- a common sight on the backstreets of Baku until butchery regulations were changed earlier this year.

And if the Azerbaijani landscape seems otherworldly, that could be because conditions here aren't dissimilar to Mars.

A number of possible mud volcanoes have been found on Mars, suggesting the presence -- at one time -- of water, and therefore the possibility of life.

'Millions of snakes'

"There are six types of mud volcano," explains Pashayev. "Active. Not active. Oil-producing. Underwater. Island mud volcano. And destroyed mud volcano."

There are around 140 underwater mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan and there are six island volcanoes under the reserve's jurisdiction -- although explains scientist Anar Baghiriv, the team lacks the resources to visit them.

But on one of the island volcanoes, Pashayev explains, the strangest sight isn't the bubbling mud. "From 100 meters, you see that the island is shaking. But when you go close, you see millions of snakes, can you imagine? Millions."

So covered is the island with sea snakes, adds Baghiriv, "You cannot find a place to put your foot."

What lies beneath

Pilpili Gardag is the last stop on our tour. Once we're ushered past the security guard, it's a steep walk uphill to the most dramatic volcano yet.

The slick surface of the mud glistens in the searing July sunshine, with huge gray bubbles forming and then bursting with a satisfying plup.

Mud volcano eruptions vary enormously, from those that quietly, continuously pour out slow streams of slurry, to explosive eruptions that expel thousands of cubic meters at once.

In Azerbaijan, says Pashayev, we have "different sizes, different views, different sculptures. We have all the types, all the forms."

The Guinness Book of Records lists the world's largest mud volcano as being an Azerbaijani one, measuring one kilometer across the base and several hundred kilometers in height.

At Pilipili Gardag, the volatile lunar landscape, with the sun bouncing white off the bleached-out clay and the summer heat sliding towards 40 C (104 F), has an uncanny majesty.

But the real mysteries, the churning, living wonders, are in the many shifting layers beneath our feet.

To find out more and to contact the scientists at the State Nature Reserve, visit the Facebook page Mud volcanoes of Azerbaijan

Click to Submit Photo

 

 

Huntsville
Overcast
55° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 55°
Florence
Overcast
57° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 57°
Fayetteville
Overcast
54° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 54°
Decatur
Overcast
55° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 55°
Scottsboro
Overcast
63° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 63°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 155915

Reported Deaths: 2674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22988375
Mobile16788315
Tuscaloosa10235140
Montgomery9978197
Madison922894
Shelby727463
Baldwin661569
Lee651765
Marshall437249
Calhoun422461
Etowah421450
Morgan407135
Houston371734
DeKalb336029
Elmore317353
St. Clair289142
Limestone279730
Walker275593
Talladega263635
Cullman239925
Lauderdale218042
Jackson212515
Franklin203231
Autauga203030
Colbert198731
Russell19283
Blount191125
Dallas186327
Chilton185832
Coffee173211
Escambia172230
Covington171429
Dale166551
Chambers134343
Clarke133617
Pike132713
Tallapoosa131387
Marion107129
Barbour10129
Butler100240
Marengo100222
Winston91913
Geneva8617
Lawrence83732
Pickens83618
Bibb82514
Randolph82016
Hale75830
Clay73612
Washington73412
Cherokee73114
Lowndes70428
Monroe64510
Henry6436
Bullock63917
Crenshaw60330
Perry5856
Fayette56913
Wilcox56412
Conecuh56013
Cleburne5518
Macon53020
Lamar4745
Sumter47221
Choctaw39012
Greene34216
Coosa2033
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 241513

Reported Deaths: 3076
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby35564562
Davidson30982333
Knox1239889
Rutherford11502113
Hamilton11497105
Williamson689756
Sumner5900109
Wilson457756
Putnam432955
Montgomery408052
Out of TN390636
Madison371180
Sullivan354046
Bradley351923
Washington332649
Sevier329921
Blount327334
Maury316437
Unassigned28378
Robertson257741
Hamblen242248
Tipton230922
Dyer216329
Gibson212342
Hardeman185433
Coffee183223
Trousdale17587
Obion173021
Greene165451
Bedford165020
Fayette165022
Anderson164614
Dickson163619
McMinn158934
Loudon158811
Cumberland158425
Wayne15847
Lawrence155618
Jefferson152920
Weakley151125
Carter149532
Monroe141928
Warren141510
Lauderdale140417
Henderson139825
Hardin137519
Macon130725
Franklin126317
Roane12577
Haywood125327
Overton118416
Hawkins117024
White115014
Johnson11277
Carroll112525
McNairy111127
Marshall11089
Rhea108317
Cheatham103111
Cocke101412
Bledsoe10104
Lake9803
Smith97613
Campbell9759
Giles93735
Fentress88910
Lincoln8523
Crockett82920
Henry77110
Hickman76715
Marion7419
Chester72114
DeKalb71117
Decatur64811
Grainger5664
Grundy54511
Union5233
Claiborne5146
Polk49213
Jackson4465
Humphreys4344
Morgan4317
Benton4119
Cannon4042
Houston40417
Unicoi3953
Clay39413
Lewis3752
Scott3625
Sequatchie3384
Stewart3179
Meigs3066
Perry2772
Pickett2627
Moore2592
Van Buren2011
Hancock1153

Community Events