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Report on Llaima (Chile) — January 2008


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 33, no. 1 (January 2008)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Llaima (Chile) Ash plumes observed in May and August 2007; new eruption beginning 1 January 2008

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2008. Report on Llaima (Chile) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 33:1. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200801-357110



38.692°S, 71.729°W; summit elev. 3125 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

From January 2002 through April 2003 (BGVN 29:02) there were increases in seismicity and fumarolic activity, along with minor eruptions, pronounced glacial melting, and substantial ash and gas plumes. Renewed activity consisting of minor eruptions was reported in May and possibly August 2007, but a larger eruption began on 1 January 2008. The source for most of the following is the Observatorio Volcanológico de los Andes del Sur (OVDAS)-SERNAGEOMIN (Volcano Observatory of the Southern Andes-Chile National Service of Geology and Mining).

On 26 May 2007, the Buenos Aires Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) reported that ash plumes from Llaima rose to altitudes of 3-4.3 km and were visible on satellite imagery drifting E. A pilot reported another ash plume on 28 May that rose to an altitude of 5.5-6.7 km and drifted E. On 29 May, an ash plume rose to an altitude of 3 km and drifted E. No further activity was reported until 8 August, when pilots observed a plume to an altitude of 5.2 km drifting E. Ash was not identified on satellite imagery for this date.

Eruption during January 2008. Based on pilot reports and observations of satellite imagery, the Buenos Aires VAAC reported that on 1 January 2008 an ash plume rose to an altitude of 12.5 km and drifted E and ESE. The eruption began at 1820 hours, according to the Chile National Emergency Office. Lava was reported to be visible on the E flank and fumaroles at the summit were noted. The strong explosive activity prompted authorities to raise the Alert level to Yellow. According to news media reports, around 700 people were evacuated from local communities following the initial eruption, including about 200 tourists and National Forest Service employees from the Conguillo National Park. Most of the residents returned the following day when activity declined.

SERNAGEOMIN reported that tremor coincided with the onset of the gas and pyroclastic emissions on 1 January. Lava and incandescent material initially emitted were confined to the crater, but within a few hours, a Strombolian phase began. Soon, brightly glowing material covered much of the previously ice-covered summit (figure 14). Around the time of the eruption, an increase in volume of the Captrén river on the N flank was observed; this was likely a response to the glacial melting.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 14. Llaima as seen in eruption on 1 January 2008. Photo taken from W of the volcano between Temuco and Vilcun, Chile. Photo by Antonio Vergara via the flikr website (Creative Commons license).

On the following day, observers on an overflight saw small emissions of ash and gas (mainly steam) and three small lahars on the N and W flanks. Tremor decreased, though explosions continued. Based on pilot reports and satellite imagery, the Buenos Aires VAAC reported that an ash plume rose to an altitude of 12.5 km and drifted E (figure 15). A later overflight revealed that the explosion on 2 January occurred at an area high on the E flank, outside the summit crater. A lava flow on the E flank was also noted. On 3 January an ash plume was visible on satellite imagery at an altitude of 3.7 km drifting NE. Airborne observers noted small sporadic gas-and-ash emissions.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 15. A GOES-12 visual image of Llaima plume, captured at 1039 UTC on 2 January 2008. North is toward the top of the image, and the plume blew to the ESE. Courtesy of Charles Holliday, U.S. Air Force Weather Agency.

In addition to ash, Llaima's eruption released considerable sulfur dioxide (SO2), identified by satellite instruments in the days following the 1 January eruption (figure 16). The initially intense SO2 plume dispersed as it moved E. On 4 January, the plume passed over Tristan da Cunha, a remote archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean (figure 16). According to Charles Holliday, Simon Carn, and Michon Scott, the SO2 dissipated after 6 January 2008.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 16. An image acquired by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA's Aura satellite showing the progress of the SO2 plume from Llaima during 2-4 January 2008. The island of Tristan de Cunha is shown along in the southern Atlantic Ocean. (In the colored version of this image, red indicates the greatest concentration-pathlength of SO2 and lavender-pink indicates the lowest concentration-pathlength.) OMI measures the total atmospheric column amount of SO2 in Dobson Units (a common unit used in atmospheric research). NASA image courtesy Simon Carn; text modified from that by Simon Carn and Michon Scott.

Between 1835 and 1915 on 6 January 2008 a helicopter overflight was conducted, coordinated by Jaime Pinto, Director of the Araucania Region Emergency Office (OREMI). Observers noted that main crater vent was clogged with lava (figure 17), which, after the eruption, dropped a few dozen meters inside the crater. During the eruption, lava diverged into two areas in the main crater, draining flows to the W and NE and melting the ice. The melted ice produced three lahars toward the W flank, which merged into one that entered the Calbuco River. To the NE, the melted ice generated a single channel lahar that flowed into the Captrén River, cutting the road in several locations. A small lahar also traveled to the E. The dispersion of ash and gases was mainly to the E, although initially they went ESE. There were abundant cracks seen in the glaciers in the SW and SE of the main crater, particularly in the SE.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 17. Topographic map showing Llaima and features observed during a helicopter overflight on 6 January 2008. The features include lahars (shaded in green), the Calbuco and Captren rivers, detached areas of lava blocks and ashes, fallen pyroclastics, fumaroles, and limit of falling ash (highlighted dashed lines). Courtesy of SERNAGEOMIN.

SERNAGEOMIN reported that during 10-14 January 2008 seismicity decreased in terms of energy, but increased in the number of events. Based on seismic interpretation, weak explosions produced plumes of gas and ash that drifted NE. On 11 January, the upper surface of lava flows on the W flank that were observed during an overflight were cooled and snow-covered near the crater, but snow-free, and therefore still hot, about 500 m farther downslope. Blocks of incandescent material rolled ~ 1.5 km downslope and caused steam emissions where they contacted the glacier. Abundant cracks in glaciers to the SW of the crater were noted. Based on observations of satellite imagery and pilot reports, the Buenos Aires VAAC reported that ash plumes rose to an altitude of 5.5-6.7 km and drifted NE on 11 January and SW on 13 January.

Eruptive activity continued during the second half of January from the main crater and from two craters and a fissure on the E flank. The main crater contained three active pyroclastic cones. On 16 January one of the craters, ~ 15 m in diameter, produced ash plumes that rose to an altitude of ~ 3.6 km. Glaciers on the NE slope and W flank were fractured and dislocated. Ash plumes rising from the E flank attained an altitude of 4.1 km. Ash emissions vented from a NE-trending fissure ~ 80 m long and ~ 10 m wide. On 16-17 January glowing rocks were emitted from the fissure's NE end; ash plumes caused by rolling rocks rose from multiple areas.

At 0732 on 18 January, an explosion from the E flank sent an ash plume to an altitude of 9.1 km that quickly dispersed NE. People later saw a small lateral explosion from the same area, ash-and-gas emissions from several points, and a new fissure.

On 19 January, an explosion produced an ash plume that rose to an altitude of 4.1 km. An overflight revealed Strombolian activity in the main crater from a new pyroclastic cone that was 120 m in diameter and 100 m high; the cone was absent during a 17 January overflight. A second crater to the SW emitted gas. Sporadic ash emissions were noted from the E sector and an explosion produced a pyroclastic flow and an ash plume that quickly dissipated. On 20 January, another explosion produced an ash plume that rose to an altitude of 4.1 km. Gas and ash emissions were again noted from multiple areas. On 21 January, cloud cover prevented visual observations, but one small ash emission was seen at the end of the day.

On 23 January, a brown ash plume rose to an altitude of 3.5 km and drifted W. Observers on an overflight later that day saw Strombolian eruptions from the pyroclastic cone in the main crater accompanied by emissions of brown ash. A small hornito emitting bluish gas and a lava field were noted between the pyroclastic cone and the inner margins of the crater. Explosions from the E flank were detected on 24 January, and on 26 January steam plumes were observed. Strombolian eruptions in the main crater accompanied by gas and ash emissions continued during through 27 January. Ash plumes rose to altitudes of 3.3-4.1 km and drifted NW, E, SE, and S.

MODVOLC Thermal Alerts. Numerous MODIS thermal anomalies were measured almost daily throughout the month of January 2008 (table 2). As shown by the number of pixels for various observing time, the anomalies covered a particularly large area on 2 January (24 pixels). In contrast, anomalies were absent during the previous intervals of 1 January 2002 through 26 April 2007, and 16 June 2007 through 1 January 2008.

Table 2. Thermal anomalies measured by MODIS/MODVOLC over Llaima from 27 April 2007 through 30 January 2008. No anomalies were detected from 2002 through 26 April 2007, or 16 June 2007 through 1 January 2008. Courtesy of HIGP Thermal Anomalies Team.

Date Time (UTC) Pixels Satellite
27 Apr 2007 1910 3 Aqua
14 Jun 2007 1455 5 Terra
15 Jun 2007 0515 1 Aqua
02 Jan 2008 0250 2 Terra
02 Jan 2008 0430 9 Terra
02 Jan 2008 0605 24 Aqua
02 Jan 2008 1355 2 Terra
02 Jan 2008 1535 3 Terra
02 Jan 2008 1810 2 Aqua
03 Jan 2008 0335 4 Terra
03 Jan 2008 0510 2 Aqua
03 Jan 2008 1440 1 Terra
03 Jan 2008 1850 1 Aqua
04 Jan 2008 0555 3 Aqua
05 Jan 2008 0320 1 Terra
06 Jan 2008 0545 1 Aqua
11 Jan 2008 0425 1 Terra
11 Jan 2008 0600 2 Aqua
12 Jan 2008 0330 1 Terra
14 Jan 2008 0630 1 Aqua
15 Jan 2008 0400 1 Terra
15 Jan 2008 0535 1 Aqua
16 Jan 2008 0620 2 Aqua
17 Jan 2008 0345 1 Terra
17 Jan 2008 0525 3 Aqua
17 Jan 2008 1450 2 Terra
18 Jan 2008 0605 1 Aqua
20 Jan 2008 0555 1 Aqua
22 Jan 2008 0405 1 Terra
22 Jan 2008 0545 2 Aqua
23 Jan 2008 0625 1 Aqua
24 Jan 2008 0530 3 Aqua
24 Jan 2008 1455 1 Terra
25 Jan 2008 0255 3 Terra
25 Jan 2008 0615 4 Aqua
26 Jan 2008 0340 2 Terra
26 Jan 2008 0520 2 Aqua
26 Jan 2008 1445 1 Aqua
27 Jan 2008 0425 2 Terra
27 Jan 2008 0600 2 Aqua
27 Jan 2008 1525 1 Terra
28 Jan 2008 0330 4 Terra
28 Jan 2008 0505 4 Aqua
28 Jan 2008 1845 1 Aqua
29 Jan 2008 0410 4 Terra
29 Jan 2008 0550 2 Aqua
30 Jan 2008 0315 2 Terra
30 Jan 2008 0630 4 Aqua
30 Jan 2008 1420 5 Terra
31 Jan 2008 0400 6 Terra
31 Jan 2008 0535 3 Aqua
31 Jan 2008 1915 3 Aqua

Geological Summary. Llaima, one of Chile's largest and most active volcanoes, contains two main historically active craters, one at the summit and the other, Pichillaima, to the SE. The massive, dominantly basaltic-to-andesitic, stratovolcano has a volume of 400 km3. A Holocene edifice built primarily of accumulated lava flows was constructed over an 8-km-wide caldera that formed about 13,200 years ago, following the eruption of the 24 km3 Curacautín Ignimbrite. More than 40 scoria cones dot the volcano's flanks. Following the end of an explosive stage about 7200 years ago, construction of the present edifice began, characterized by Strombolian, Hawaiian, and infrequent subplinian eruptions. Frequent moderate explosive eruptions with occasional lava flows have been recorded since the 17th century.

Information Contacts: Servico Nacional de Geologia y Mineria (SERNAGEOMIN), Avda Sta María N° 0104, Santiago, Chile (URL: http://www.sernageomin.cl/); Buenos Aires Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC), Servicio Meteorológico Nacional-Fuerza Aérea Argentina, 25 de mayo 658, Buenos Aires, Argentina (URL: http://www.smn.gov.ar/vaac/buenosaires/productos.php); Simon Carn, Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC); Charles Holliday, U.S. Air Force Weather Agency (AFWA)/XOGM, Offutt Air Force Base, NE 68113, USA; Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) Thermal Alerts System, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), Univ. of Hawai'i, 2525 Correa Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA (URL: http://modis.higp.hawaii.edu/); Associated Press (URL: http://www.ap.org/); United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) (URL: https://reliefweb.int/); Antonio Vergara, Temuco, Chile (URL: http://www.flickr.com/people/odiofotolog/).