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Report on Tungurahua (Ecuador) — November 2003


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 28, no. 11 (November 2003)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke.

Tungurahua (Ecuador) Ash eruptions and other activity throughout 2003, but elevated after August

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2003. Report on Tungurahua (Ecuador) (Venzke, E., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 28:11. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200311-352080



1.467°S, 78.442°W; summit elev. 5023 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The Instituto Geofísico (IG) provided Tungurahua reports discussing the year 2003. Ash-bearing eruptions sent plumes as high as 9.4 km altitude, with resulting noticeable ashfall 40 km distant. Lahars were common and occasionally incandescent material descended the upper flanks. Activity was low during January and February, and increased slightly in March and again in June. In August activity increased again, and for the rest of the year it generally remained elevated. IG recognized a new phase of eruptive activity beginning 20 August. That phase consisted of long-period earthquakes followed by emissions reaching up to 3 km above the volcano (~8 km altitude).

Activity during January-February 2003. During these months volcanism generally remained low, with occasional emissions of gas and ash that produced low-level plumes. Incandescence was sometimes visible in the crater at night. Seismicity was low and was characterized by sporadic long-period earthquakes and low intensity emissions. Activity increased slightly beginning 12 February with an emission that rose to low levels and drifted W. A moderate explosion on 19 February deposited a small amount of ash on the ENE flanks (Cerro de Ulba and the Ulba valley). Seismicity increased slightly during the eruption, but returned to low levels afterwards. Volcanic and seismic activity remained low through early March with continuing gas and ash emissions.

Activity during March 2003. Activity began to intensify on 5 March when lahars descended the gorges on Tungurahua's NW flank, obstructing the road between the towns of Baños (~8 km N of the summit) and Pelileo (~13 km NNW of the summit). Around 7 March ash rose to ~7 km altitude and drifted SW. No ash was visible on satellite imagery. By 9 March several low-to-moderate explosions had occurred and this activity continued. On 11 March three small-to-moderate explosions deposited ash in the W-flank village of Pillate (8 km from the summit). That day a pilot reported ash to ~8.2 km altitude.

On 16 March a fine layer of ash accumulated in Baños. Sporadic explosions continued for the rest of the month, with one on 19 March that sent incandescent material ~1 km down the flanks. Explosions during this period were accompanied by Strombolian activity, gas-and-ash emissions, and loud roaring. Seismicity was dominated by tremor and long-period earthquakes, with tremor starting to decrease after 13 March.

Activity during April-May 2003. During early April, explosions occasionally occurred at the volcano. A pilot reported seeing ash at a height of around 2.3 km over Tungurahua on 6 April. No ash was detected on satellite imagery, however. Three explosions occurred on 7 April, with the largest plume rising to ~3 km above the volcano. Very little ash was visible in the plume. Activity dropped slightly for a few days, with sporadic explosions, until a large explosion occurred on 10 April, producing a plume with low ash content to ~2 km above the volcano. Volcanic explosions, generally small, continued the following week; minor vapor columns were also noted. Cloud cover obscured the volcano on some days, but an aviation report on 16 April mentioned that IG staff reported an ash cloud rising up to ~7 km altitude (~2 km above the summit). On 17 April two ash columns rose 1.5 and 2 km above the summit and blew SW and W, respectively. The volcano generally appeared relatively placid, but concern about mudflows and sudden increases in eruptive output remained. Limited visibility often prevailed, but it was noted that Tungurahua's behavior alternated between days of tranquility and those with small to moderate explosions. Few earthquakes occurred.

On 1 May an explosion sent ash to 2 km above the summit; incandescent material fell onto the flanks up to 0.8 km from the crater. Based on information from IG, the Washington VAAC reported that a small 6 May explosion yielded a cloud composed mainly of gas, with some ash. The cloud drifted W and seismic activity decreased after the explosion.

Activity during June-July 2003. Volcanic activity increased in early June. On 6 June, strong Strombolian activity hurled incandescent volcanic blocks ~500 m from the summit; plumes of mainly steam rose to around 2 km above the volcano and drifted W. Ash fell in the settlements of Pillate (8 km W of the summit), San Juan (~40 km WSW of the summit), and Riobamba (32 km SW of the summit), with accumulations of less than 1 mm. There were reports of airborne ash interfering with main flight routes across Ecuador. Emissions on 9 June reached 3-6 km above the volcano. On 10 June vibrations from an explosion were felt in Baños, explosions could be heard in towns near the volcano, and ash fell in several villages.

On 15 June incandescent blocks were hurled to ~150 m above the crater and rolled ~1 km down the N flank. During the evening of 17 June, Strombolian activity was visible at the summit, and an explosion on 18 June deposited ash on the settlements of Cusúa (~8 km NW of the summit), Juive (7 km NNW), and Pillate. Gas emissions with small amounts of ash occurred regularly, and on 19 June observers saw ash rise to 3 km above the summit.

During the last week of June, several explosions produced ash clouds; on 25 June ash fell in Pillate and in the town of Mocha (25 km W). Ash was visible on satellite imagery, with the highest-rising ash cloud reaching ~9.4 km altitude on 27 June. Emissions on 29 June deposited ash in Pillate, and in the towns of Cotaló (8 km NW of summit) and Cevallos.

On 1 and 2 July ash plumes rose to ~2 km above the volcano and ash fell in several towns near the volcano. Strombolian activity also occurred, and ash from the eruptions damaged crops and livestock near the volcano. A state of emergency was declared on 3 July, and food rations were distributed to residents of the town of Chimborazo. After 2 July, eruptive vigor remained relatively low through the rest of the month and into August. Reports noted mainly steam and gas emissions and low plumes.

Activity during August 2003. Tungurahua entered a new phase of activity on 20 August. The new phase was characterized by a short sequence of long-period earthquakes followed by gas-and-ash emissions that reached a maximum height of 3 km above the volcano.

A small amount of ash fell in Cusúa on 20 August. During the evening the volcano hurled incandescent blocks ~300 m above the summit and some traveled ~1 km downslope. On 21 August emissions of mostly steam and small amounts of ash rose ~1 km above the volcano and drifted W; ash fell in the Riobamba, Ambato (~33 km NW), and Santa Fé de Galán areas. On 23 August plumes rose to 0.5-2.5 km above the volcano, and ash fell in the town of Guaranda. On 24 August an explosion, heard in the town of Baños, ejected blocks that traveled ~1 km down the volcano's flanks. An emission on 27 August deposited ash in Ambato and caused flight restrictions to and from the airport there. During this week, volcanic block-and-ash emissions continued, with ash plumes rising to heights of ~4 km above the volcano. These drifted primarily W and SW and deposited ash in several towns.

Activity during September-October 2003. Moderate ash emissions and ashfall continued during September and October, accompanied in mid-September by tremor related to gas discharge. Seismicity ranged from moderate levels in September to a series of long-period earthquakes and explosions in early October.

Incandescence was observed in the crater on the evening of 7 September. On 15 September two emissions produced gas-and-ash plumes that reached a maximum height of 2 km above the volcano; ash fell predominately W of the volcano. On 22 September ash clouds reached a height of 3 km above the volcano and drifted W. On 24 September ash emissions produced plumes that drifted NW, depositing small amounts of ash in the towns of Quero (~20 km WNW of the summit), Puela (~8 km SW), Juive, and Cusúa. Volcanic blocks emitted during the eruption rolled ~1 km down the NW flank.

On 1 October gas-and-ash emissions reached a height of ~4 km and drifted NE and NW, depositing ash in San Juan (~40 km WSW), Pillate, and Valle del Patate. On 9 October ash fell on northerly sectors near the volcano, including Runtún (~6 km NNE of the summit), Juive, and Baños. Strombolian activity was seen during the evening of 12 October. Associated gas-and-ash plumes up to 2 km high drifted NNE and ash fell in Ambato. On the night of 18 October incandescent blocks rolled down the crater's W side. Incandescence and Strombolian activity were observed the following night. Activity decreased slightly on 20 October with fewer explosions and no major gas-and-ash eruptions recorded. Ash plumes were frequently visible on satellite imagery during 15-20 October.

Activity during November-December 2003. Tungurahua maintained generally low activity in early November, increasing towards month's end. Following a week of small-to-moderate eruptions of gas and ash, an eruption on 2 November produced a plume that rose to ~3 km above the volcano and drifted W. Over the next few days, occasional ash-poor plumes rose to less than 1 km above the summit; a few ash-bearing emissions did occur, including ashfalls of low intensity on 5, 6, and 7 November to the E. Also on 6 November seismic stations recorded two larger-than-average explosions, one associated with an ash column rising to 2 km. Seismicity returned to low levels, with relatively few earthquakes, but tremor continued.

During 12-18 November, small-to-moderate eruptions of steam, gas, and some ash continued; plumes rose to ~2.5 km above the volcano, but there were no reports of ashfall in nearby towns. Strombolian activity was visible at the crater and avalanches of incandescent volcanic material rolled ~1 km down the volcano's flanks. Activity increased to high levels beginning 19 November; numerous moderate explosions produced plumes that were frequently visible on satellite imagery and rose up to 2 km above the crater. Ash was dispersed SSW and SW on 19 and 20 November and WNW and NW on 23 and 24 November, respectively. Throughout the week Strombolian activity was visible at night.

During 22 November to 1 December, a large number of emissions of gas, steam, and ash occurred, depositing ash to the SW, W, and NW. Plumes were visible on satellite imagery at a maximum of ~7 km altitude.

During 11-16 December, volcanic activity remained relatively high with several explosions producing ash-and-gas plumes to a maximum of 9 km altitude. There were also many long-period earthquakes, occurring with nearly constant gas-and-ash emissions. Explosions on 11 December deposited ash in the towns of Quero, Santa Fe de Galán, and lesser amounts in Bilbao. Ash-and-gas plumes were visible on satellite imagery several times during the week.

Geological Summary. Tungurahua, a steep-sided andesitic-dacitic stratovolcano that towers more than 3 km above its northern base, is one of Ecuador's most active volcanoes. Three major edifices have been sequentially constructed since the mid-Pleistocene over a basement of metamorphic rocks. Tungurahua II was built within the past 14,000 years following the collapse of the initial edifice. Tungurahua II collapsed about 3,000 years ago and produced a large debris-avalanche deposit to the west. The modern glacier-capped stratovolcano (Tungurahua III) was constructed within the landslide scarp. Historical eruptions have all originated from the summit crater, accompanied by strong explosions and sometimes by pyroclastic flows and lava flows that reached populated areas at the volcano's base. Prior to a long-term eruption beginning in 1999 that caused the temporary evacuation of the city of BaƱos at the foot of the volcano, the last major eruption had occurred from 1916 to 1918, although minor activity continued until 1925.

Information Contacts: Geophysical Institute (IG), Escuela Politécnica Nacional, Apartado 17-01-2759, Quito, Ecuador (URL: http://www.igepn.edu.ec/); Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC), Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB), NOAA/NESDIS E/SP23, NOAA Science Center Room 401, 5200 Auth Road, Camp Springs, MD 20746, USA (URL: http://www.ospo.noaa.gov/Products/atmosphere/vaac/); El Comercio, Quito, Ecuador (URL: http://www.elcomercio. com/); Agence France-Presse.