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Report on Villarrica (Chile) — March 2014


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 39, no. 3 (March 2014)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Villarrica (Chile) During November 2010 to December 2013, lava lake persists but few explosions

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2014. Report on Villarrica (Chile) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 39:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN201403-357120



39.42°S, 71.93°W; summit elev. 2847 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The year 2014 marks the 3rd decade of largely non-explosive activity at Villarrica, historically one of the most active volcanoes in the Andes. Villarrica has been relatively quiet since our last report, which discussed events from April 2010 to October 2010 (BGVN 35:10). This report covers the time period from November 2010 to December 2013.

During this reporting period, comparative quiet prevailed. There were occasional cases reported of spattering lava, small white plumes, minor ash emissions (up to 50 m above the crater rim), and nighttime incandescence reflected off of the plumes according to Proyecto Observación Villarrica Internet (POVI) and Observatorio Volcanológico de los Andes del Sur (OVDAS-SERNAGEOMIN). Satellite thermal radiance during the reporting interval suggested often low radiance, with rare cases of high incandescence consistent with turbulence and fountaining in the deep, 40 m wide lava lake.

On 17 September 2011 remobilized tephra rose ~500 m above the crater, which according to POVI, was likely caused by a sudden impact when a snow cornice detached and fell into the crater. On 19 September 2011, a rapid rise in the level of the lava lake caused much of the snow and ice to melt, especially on the southern inner wall. Strombolian explosions from the crater were observed on 26 September 2011, and tephra deposits on the E edge of the crater were noted. On 27 September 2011 incandescence from the lava lake was reflected in the cloud cover above.

The period from November 2011 to March 2012 saw very little explosive activity. Two small ash emissions occurred on 7 March. Incandescence from the crater was observed from the town of Pucon (16 km N) during 7-8 March. During 7-9 March, lava spattering from the lava lake was observed for the first time that year. Four small ash emissions were observed during 13-14 March. On 20 March a large, white plume was visible above the crater. The observer postulated that due to the humid atmospheric conditions that day, the steam condensate in the visible plume remained conspicuous both to a height of 1,500 m above the crater as well as 20 km SW of the crater.

According to POVI, an ash plume rose 50 m above Villarrica on 19 April 2012. Incandescence from Villarrica's crater subsided in mid-April and was undetected by satellite and ground observations at least through 10 November 2012.

On 30 January 2013, weak incandescence was observed in the near-infrared spectrum from the ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer) instrument on the Terra satellite. POVI reported that satellite images of Villarrica acquired on 25 July revealed a weak thermal anomaly. On 29 July 2013 observers photographed the crater and described a thermal anomaly on the S edge of the crater rim, in the same area from which a lava flow originated on 29 December 1971. They also heard deep degassing sounds. A second photograph showed a diffuse gas plume rising from the bottom of the crater, and ash and lapilli on the snow on the inner crater walls.

Analysis of MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) band 21 (3.929-3.989 μm) satellite images from 2003 to 2013 highlights three main cycles of activity. These were characterized by convective lava fountains and Strombolian explosions from the lava pit, located ~ 40-150 m below the rim of the crater, according to POVI. The last time MODIS infrared sensors detected elevated thermal radiance was in early 2012 (figure 8).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 28. Elevated thermal radiance in Watts per square meter detected at Villarrica using MODIS band 21 (3.929-3.989 μm) from 2003 through 2013. Courtesy of POVI and NASA MODIS.

In accord with the thermal radiance data seen in figure 28, OVDAS-SERNAGEOMIN maintained an Alert Level of Green for Villarrica from the period of 5 March 2012 to 30 December 2013, characterizing Villarrica as active but stable with no immediate threat. The seismicity reports from OVDAS-SERNAGEOMIN during the period of July 2013 to December 2013 showed the monthly number of earthquakes recorded ranged from 439 to 1,433. The reduced displacement of the tremors recorded fluctuated throughout July 2013- December 2013 from 0.6 cm² to 9.9 cm². During this period of time, the amount of SO2 emissions recorded by a scanning DOAS spectrometer OVDAS-SERNAGEOMIN varied from 156 tons/day to 888 tons/day. The height above the crater rim of the steam-gas plumes ranged from 150 m to 1,500 m. MODIS did not record any thermal anomalies during this period of time.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 29. Aerial image of the Villarrica crater at dawn on 14 October 2013. Copyrighted image taken by Diego Spatafore.

Geological Summary. The glacier-covered Villarrica stratovolcano, in the northern Lakes District of central Chile, is ~15 km south of the city of Pucon. A 2-km-wide caldera that formed about 3,500 years ago is located at the base of the presently active, dominantly basaltic to basaltic-andesite cone at the NW margin of a 6-km-wide Pleistocene caldera. More than 30 scoria cones and fissure vents are present on 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. Eruptions documented since 1558 CE 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: Proyecto Observaci├│n Villarrica Internet (POVI) (URL: http://www.povi.cl/); and Observatorio Volcanol├│gico de los Andes del Sur Servicio Nacional de Geologia y Mineria (OVDAS SERNAGEOMIN), Santiago, Chile (URL: http://www2.sernageomin.cl/ovdas).