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Report on Villarrica (Chile) — December 1996

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 21, no. 12 (December 1996)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Villarrica (Chile) Crater observations for the interval 11 September 1996-13 January 1997

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1996. Report on Villarrica (Chile). In: Wunderman, R. (ed.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 21:12. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199612-357120.

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39.42°S, 71.93°W; summit elev. 2847 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The following summarizes observations of eruptive activity during 11 September 1996-13 January 1997, based on descriptions by volcano guides and a visit to the volcano by Werner Keller in January 1997.

On 11 September 1996 a group of mountain climbers observed intense degassing of water vapor and reported that the small lava pond on the crater floor was not visible. On 14 September (BGVN 21:09) there was emission of ash accompanied by a dull rumbling noise. Guide Claudio Marticorena of Pucon was close to the summit with a group of tourists at the time of the ash emissions and reported that lava blocks tens of centimeters in diameter were ejected above the rim of the summit crater.

October and November were characterized by a notable rise of the magma column within the central crater pit, which was almost completely filled to its rim. Mountain guides Victor Sepulveda and Claudio Marticorena reported a vigorously convecting lava lake 50 m in diameter with fountaining from several areas of the lake. Frequent bursts ejected spatter and incandescent bombs beyond the summit crater, onto the upper flanks of the cone every few seconds. This activity lasted until mid-November 1996, followed by a rapid subsidence of the magmatic column and accompanied by strong vapor emission later that month. In December, the characteristic nocturnal crater glow observed at Villarrica during the past years disappeared.

Fumarolic emissions from the summit crater diminished in early January 1997, and on 4 January Sepulveda noted that the inner crater pit was again completely visible, for the first time since late November 1996. At that date, the central pit was ~100 m deep, with two small degassing vents at the bottom. No incandescent lava was visible in either of the vents, but gas emissions produced a distinct noise. The S part of the intracrater platform left after the 1984-85 eruption had collapsed into the central pit. On 13 January, mountain guides noted incandescent lava within the central pit: this suggested a new rise of the magma column.

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: Boris Behncke, Geomar Research Center for Marine Geosciences, Wischhofstrasse 1-3, 24148 Kiel, Germany; Werner Keller, Wiesenstrasse 8, 86438 Kissing, Germany.