Report on Villarrica (Chile) — September 1999

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 24, no. 9 (September 1999)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Villarrica (Chile) Increased tremor and small ash explosions

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1999. Report on Villarrica (Chile). In: Wunderman, R (ed.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 24:9. Smithsonian Institution.

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39.42°S, 71.93°W; summit elev. 2847 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The following report, from the scientific team at the Observatorio Volcanologico de Los Andes del Sur (OVDAS), is for the period 20 August through 11 October 1999.

Since 22 August, seismic activity at Villarrica has increased from background levels, shown by an increase in the amplitude of harmonic tremor signals registered at station CVVI, located 19 km from the crater. Periods of high-amplitude tremor lasting 2-30 hours occurred, alternating with background-level tremor (banded tremor). Elevated levels of harmonic tremor lasting for hours-days preceded the last eruption in 1984. OVDAS has therefore recommended to local authorities a move to Level 2 (Green) in the "Semaforo" (traffic light) alert scheme adapted for Villarrica. If the harmonic tremor increases further in amplitude or high levels are maintained for longer periods, recommendations will be made to move to Level 3 (Amber). An energetic long-period event on 15 September, the culmination of this period of high-amplitude tremor, is considered to have been associated with a small explosive event in the crater and ash emission.

The level of seismicity rapidly decreased after 15 September to unusually low levels. Magma level in the crater lake however, is inferred to have been high on 25 September from nighttime observations of glow. Observations by local residents suggest that during the early morning of 26 September a second explosion occurred, depositing new ash. This event was not registered by CVVI so is considered to have been less energetic than the first.

On 1 October, OVDAS scientists on a helicopter flight observed that the level of the magma lake was unusually low (~200 m below the crater rim). The incandescent lava was only visible through a small opening (20-30 m) in a solid crust. Ashfall deposits extended ~5 km ESE from the crater. The deposits clearly exhibited two components, that of the Strombolian fountain (proximally) and that of the upper ash plume. A further increase in tremor amplitude and frequency was observed on 3 October. Observations of new ash and projectiles on the crater rim on the 4th suggested that this tremor episode also culminated in a small explosive event.

A new type of seismic signal, apparently strong hybrid earthquakes, was also registered at the VNVI seismic station (4 km from the crater). They have been increasing in number since 1 October (typically 2-3/day) and are not associated with any visible activity. These events do not comprise the normal background activity.

Geologic Background. Glacier-clad Villarrica, one of Chile's most active volcanoes, rises above the lake and town of the same name. It is the westernmost of three large stratovolcanoes that trend perpendicular to the Andean chain. A 6-km-wide caldera formed during the late Pleistocene. A 2-km-wide caldera that formed about 3500 years ago is located at the base of the presently active, dominantly basaltic to basaltic-andesitic cone at the NW margin of the Pleistocene caldera. More than 30 scoria cones and fissure vents dot the flanks. Plinian eruptions and pyroclastic flows that have extended up to 20 km from the volcano were produced during the Holocene. Lava flows up to 18 km long have issued from summit and flank vents. Historical eruptions, documented since 1558, have consisted largely of mild-to-moderate explosive activity with occasional lava effusion. Glaciers cover 40 km2 of the volcano, and lahars have damaged towns on its flanks.

Information Contacts: Gustavo Fuentealba1, Paola Peña S., and Eliza Calder, Observatorio Volcanologico de Los Andes del Sur (OVDAS), Casilla 23D, Temuco, Chile (URL:; 1-also at Universidad de La Frontera (UFRO), Departamento Ciencias Fisicas, Universidad de la Frontera, Instituto del Medioambiente, Avda. Francisco Salazar 01145, Casilla 54-D, Temuco, Chile.