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Report on Copahue (Chile-Argentina) — September 2000


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 25, no. 9 (September 2000)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Copahue (Chile-Argentina) Continued ash explosions and tremor during August-October

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2000. Report on Copahue (Chile-Argentina) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 25:9. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200009-357090



37.856°S, 71.183°W; summit elev. 2953 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The most vigorous eruptive activity at Copahue in the last century began on 1 July 2000 (BGVN 25:06). Lapilli, ash, and sporadic bombs fell within 9 km of the crater, and ash was dispersed as far as 100 km away on the second day of eruptions. Frequent explosions throughout July generated ash columns that often caused ashfall over the villages of Copahue to the N and Caviahue to the E.

Between 0700 and 1200 on 4 August, Ramon Ortíz and technician Erwin Medel (OVDAS) installed a portable seismic station in the Queuco river valley, 16 km N of Copahue. The instrument detected a fracture-type earthquake that probably originated from the volcano, but the depth could not be determined. During 3-5 August, explosions were not noted in the Trapatrapa sector, and acidic rainfall in the Queuco river valley has not occurred since mid-July. According to residents of Caviahue, on 5 August gray spots were observed on the snow, possibly caused by fine ashfall. Apparently, eruptive activity during the previous two weeks included a greater amount of steam as a result of melting snow. A strong sulfur odor was detected in Caviahue on the night of 7 August, but there was no ashfall.

Seismic data and observations from Caviahue indicated increased activity starting on 9 August. Explosions that morning generated columns up to 4,500 m altitude that dispersed W over Chilean territory, into the Trapatrapa valley area, and during afternoon towards the Lomín river valley. The elevated activity continued through at least 1600 on 10 August, with small explosions at intervals of 5-10 or more minutes. On the night of 15 August incandescence in the crater was observed from Caviahue. Up to fist-sized fragments ejected during explosions fell back into the crater. People who approached the crater reported steam explosions composed of white clouds alternating with dark-gray ash emissions. Explosions occurred every 4-5 minutes.

A ski instructor from Caviahue, Daniel Maniero, observed the volcano under clear conditions on the evening of 17 August. Around 2100 that night intermittent incandescence in the crater was followed by thundering noises at intervals of 5 minutes. Clouds reflected crater incandescence on the night of 19 August. Maniero also reported that loud explosions every 8-10 seconds were heard near the crater on 20 August. During 20-21 August intermittent black ash clouds rose not more than 300 m, causing local ashfall around the crater.

Scientists from SERNAGEOMIN-OVDAS, Eliza Calder and Ramon Ortiz, monitored seismicity in the Trapatrapa area, ~16 km NNW of the volcano, from the afternoon of 18 August to 1100 on 19 August. They observed low and weak gray clouds. Between 1839 on 18 August and 0940 on 19 August one long-period earthquake was detected at 0036 on 19 August. According to the Argentina Gendarmerie, during that night there was a strong explosion. Seismic registries showed low-level seismicity without high-frequency earthquakes.

On 19, 21, and 23 August there were strong explosions with dark ash clouds. On the morning of 22 August an observer using binoculars on a commercial flight noted steam clouds extending 5 km N and S of the crater area as well as explosions that rose up to 500 m above the cloud layer located at ~3,000 m altitude. Direct observations carried out at 1000 on 1 September indicated the development of small explosions in the interior of the crater, where an increase in both ash accumulation and the diameter of the explosion crater were observed. The crater measured ~50 m across. Another eruptive cloud was observed from a commercial aircraft (LAN flight 991) on the morning of 2 September; it dispersed toward the N at a height of 700-1,000 m above the crater (3,700-4,000 m altitude).

Data registered by the MEQ-800 seismic station maintained by Instituto Nacional de Prevención Sísmica (INPRES) of San Juan, Argentina during 11 August-4 September, and registries obtained by a digital seismic station at the Volcanólogico Observatory (OVDAS) of SERNAGEOMIN, Chile, in the locality of Caviahue, Argentina, were used to correlate seismic and volcanic activity. Correlations were made between some periods of tremor, or periods of intense tremor separated by quiescent periods, that corresponded with later ash emissions. On 15 August rockfall events were detected. Long-period events were registered on 20 (140 seconds) and 21 August (120 and 104 seconds).

The new OVDAS station consists of an L4C seismometer with an analog-digital card converter, and a portable HP 2000 XL computer. The station was installed in Caviahue, 7 km from the crater, and buried to a depth of 70 cm to protect it from wind effects. The registered microseismic activity in Caviahue was significantly better than data obtained in Trapatrapa, over 15 km NW of the volcano in Chile. Data collection began at 0900 on 26 September. The activity consisted of short-period events associated with volcanic activity. Some events were associated with small crater explosions. A long-period event at 1946 on 23 September was followed approximately 4 hours later by a small ash emission. Although it is not always possible to directly correlate the recorded seismicity with eruptive events, it is evident that there is a close correlation between long-period events and later ash emissions. The appearance of tremor bands is also important and considered precursory to ash emission.

At dawn on 23 September, observers in Caviahue saw intense gaseous emissions in pulses of 30-60 seconds that rose up to 150 m above the crater and dispersed NNE. During that night the crater appeared incandescent. On 24 September the presence of snow was verified in the crater interior, indicating a reduction in temperature. Activity with similar characteristics occurred during the first half of October. Seismographs installed in the area detected microseismic tremors on 17 October. Between 1145 and 1245 of 18 October, constant steam emission occurred along with some denser emanations of brown color and fine ash. The inner crater diameter had not changed noticeably since mid-September, except for a new levee that resulted from wall collapse. On 19 October a thermal anomaly was detected by the GOES satellite, but there were no explosions.

Geological Summary. Volcán Copahue is an elongated composite cone constructed along the Chile-Argentina border within the 6.5 x 8.5 km wide Trapa-Trapa caldera that formed between 0.6 and 0.4 million years ago near the NW margin of the 20 x 15 km Pliocene Caviahue (Del Agrio) caldera. The eastern summit crater, part of a 2-km-long, ENE-WSW line of nine craters, contains a briny, acidic 300-m-wide crater lake (also referred to as El Agrio or Del Agrio) and displays intense fumarolic activity. Acidic hot springs occur below the eastern outlet of the crater lake, contributing to the acidity of the Río Agrio, and another geothermal zone is located within Caviahue caldera about 7 km NE of the summit. Infrequent mild-to-moderate explosive eruptions have been recorded since the 18th century. Twentieth-century eruptions from the crater lake have ejected pyroclastic rocks and chilled liquid sulfur fragments.

Information Contacts: José Antonio Naranjo, Jefe, Departamento Geología Aplicada, Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería (URL: http://www.sernageomin.cl/); Gustavo Fuentealba, Paola Peña, Eliza Calder, and Ramón Ortíz, Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería, OVDAS (URL: http://www.sernageomin.cl/); Adriana M. Bermúdez, Investigadora Científica, CONICET, Argentina; Daniel H. Delpino, Asesor Dirección Provincial de Defensa Civil de la Provincia del Neuqué.