Logo link to homepage

Report on Villarrica (Chile) — December 2017

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 42, no. 12 (December 2017)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke. Report research and preparation by: Liz Crafford, Robert Andrews.

Villarrica (Chile) Lava lake level fluctuates and Strombolian activity persists during October 2016-November 2017

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2017. Report on Villarrica (Chile). In: Crafford, A.E., and Venzke, E. (eds.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 42:12. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN201712-357120.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


Villarrica

Chile

39.42°S, 71.93°W; summit elev. 2847 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


Historical eruptions at Chile's Villarrica (figure 35), documented since 1558, have consisted largely of mild-to-moderate explosive activity with occasional lava effusion. Lava flows emerging from the glacier-covered summit created deadly lahars in 1964 and 1971 (CSLP 95-71); a similar event in late 1984 led to evacuations and no fatalities occurred. Since then, an intermittently active lava lake has been the source of explosive activity, incandescence, and thermal anomalies. Renewed activity in early December 2014 was followed by a large explosion on 3 March 2015 that included a 9-km-altitude ash plume. Significant thermal anomalies from continued Strombolian activity at the lava lake and small ash emissions persisted through October 2016 (BGVN 41:11). Activity has continued during October 2016-November 2017, with information provided primarily by the Southern Andes Volcano Observatory, (Observatorio Volcanológico de Los Andes del Sur, OVDAS) part of Chile's National Service of Geology and Mining (Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería, SERNAGEOMIN), and Projecto Observación Villarrica Internet (POVI), part of the Fundacion Volcanes de Chile, a research group that studies volcanoes across Chile.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 35. View of Villarrica from the town of Villarrica located 30 km NW on 10 November 2016. The active lava vent was also photographed the same day (see figure 41). Courtesy of Cristian Gonzalez G.

Steam-and-gas emissions rising 200-1,000 m above the summit were observed throughout the period. The lava lake level inside the summit crater changed elevation by as much as 15 m during October 2016. Fluctuations of several meters up and down each month were reported through February 2017, and again in October 2017. Persistent minor gas-and-ash emissions, with small blocks and lapilli ejected onto the crater rim, were captured by the webcams and observed by visitors near the summit every month. Strombolian explosions and a "lava jet" sent ejecta more than 100 m above the crater rim during February 2017, and incandescent material rose 60 m above the crater rim on 1 July. Increased seismicity was detected during November 2017.

Activity during October-December 2016. Weak emissions of steam, gases, and volcanic ash near the summit were visible in the webcam during October 2016. The Buenos Aires Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) noted a pilot report of an ash plume moving NNW on 20 October 2016 at 3.7 km altitude, slightly less than a kilometer above the summit. OVDAS reported that during the month, steam plumes rose less than 700 m and incandescence was visible at night when weather conditions permitted viewing of the summit. The MODVOLC thermal anomaly system issued 11 alerts during October. During several visits to the summit that month, POVI scientists observed that the lava lake had risen 15 m (figure 36) to a level that had been previously observed on 18 December 2015, 29 January, 28 March, and 18 September 2016. A small pyroclastic cone was visible inside the summit crater on 28 October (figure 37); by 30 October, most of it had collapsed and molten lava was again visible at the center (figure 38).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 36. Between 17 and 27 October 2016, the lava lake rose about 15 meters inside the summit crater of Villarrica, reaching a similar level observed on 18 December 2015, 29 January, 28 March, and 18 September 2016. Courtesy of POVI (Volcán Villarrica, 27 de Octubre al 30 de Noviembre 2016).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 37. A small pyroclastic cone is visible at the bottom of the summit crater at Villarrica on 28 October 2016 (red arrows). On the left slope sub-parallel annular fissures are visible (yellow arrows), indicating the imminent collapse of the nested structure. The white arrows point to residue precipitated from gas emissions. Courtesy of POVI (Volcán Villarrica, 27 de Octubre al 30 de Noviembre 2016).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 38. The nested cone visible on 28 October had collapsed by 30 October 2016 at Villarrica, and incandescent lava was visible inside the vent. Courtesy of POVI (Volcán Villarrica, 27 de Octubre al 30 de Noviembre 2016).

During November and December 2016, steam emissions rose only 400 m above the crater and incandescence was only occasionally visible in the webcams at night. Thermal activity detected by satellite, however, was relatively high; MODVOLC issued twelve thermal alerts during November and nine during December. The repeated growth and destruction of small pyroclastic cones within the summit crater was well documented by several visits of POVI scientists to the summit (figures 39 and 41). They also collected bombs ejected near the crater rim (figure 40), and observed persistent minor ash-and-gas emissions (figure 42).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 39. A new pyroclastic cone grows inside the summit crater of Villarrica on 7 November 2016, days after the collapse of the previous cone on 28 October. Black spatter from lava splashes stand out on the exposed slope. Courtesy of POVI (Volcán Villarrica, 27 de Octubre al 30 de Noviembre 2016).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 40. A piece of ejecta collected at the edges of the summit crater at Villarrica on 9 November 2016. Courtesy of POVI (Volcán Villarrica, 27 de Octubre al 30 de Noviembre 2016).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 41. The pyroclastic cone at the summit crater of Villarrica photographed on 7 November had partially collapsed by 10 November 2016, the same day of the photograph showing a quiet, clear summit (figure 35). The splashes of lava rose no more than 10 m above the crater floor. Courtesy of POVI (Volcán Villarrica, 27 de Octubre al 30 de Noviembre 2016).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 42. A small ash emission of rose from the summit of Villarrica on 17 November 2016 around 1050 local time. The larger image was taken by climbers, and the inset images are from the webcam. Courtesy of POVI (Volcán Villarrica, 27 de Octubre al 30 de Noviembre 2016).

Observations by POVI scientists during December 2016 included continued evidence of cone creation and destruction in the vent (figure 43), and small lava fountains (figure 44). Strombolian explosions with bombs were recorded by the webcam on 1, 2, and 3 December. Bombs were ejected more than 50 m above the crater rim, some as large as 1.5 m in diameter. Between 2 and 3 December they observed an 8-10 m drop of the lava in the vent, leaving behind a circular depression with a small incandescent chimney on the NNW side. The webcam captured ash emissions on 2, 14, 15, 18, and 19 December.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 43. The partial collapse of the nested semicircular cone, reported by POVI on 30 November, was evident by 2 December 2016 inside the summit crater of Villarrica. The active vent is about 10-15 m in diameter. On the left wall of the crater the debris of a small recent landslide is visible above the lava. Courtesy of POVI (Informe Preliminar, Comportamiento del Volcán Villarrica, 01 al 31 de Diciembre 2016).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 44. A small Strombolian explosion created a lava fountain inside the summit crater of Villarrica on 8 December 2016. Courtesy of POVI (Informe Preliminar, Comportamiento del Volcán Villarrica, 01 al 31 de Diciembre 2016).

Activity during January-May 2017. OVDAS reported nighttime incandescence and steam emissions less than 250 m high during January 2017. They were higher in February, rising 700 m above the crater rim. Six MODVOLC thermal alerts were issued in January and one in February.

Volcanologists from POVI reported an increase in activity during February (figure 45), including a sudden collapse of about 10 m of much of the material in the lava pit on 9 February, after which a new rise began almost immediately (figure 46). During 10-15 February, explosions from a narrow vent sent lava fountains and ejecta more than 100 m high (figures 47). On 13 February, they witnessed powerful "lava jets" that rose 150 m (figure 48); bombs up to a meter in diameter were ejected 50 m from the vent and spatter covered much of the inner walls of the crater. Between 5 and 26 February, pyroclastic debris raised the level of the bottom of the crater by 10-12 m (figure 49).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 45. An increase in thermal and explosive activity was apparent between 1 and 5 February 2017 at the summit crater of Villarrica. Recently deposited lapilli (L) between 2-64 mm were scattered around the funnel shaped crater on 5 February (right). Courtesy of POVI (Volcán Villarrica, Seguimiento Científico de Actividad Volcanánica, 01 al 28 de Febrero 2017).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 46. Fresh lava spattered on the inner wall of the summit crater at Villarrica on 11 February 2017, during a new rise in the magma level after a collapse two days earlier. The diameter of the active vent had increased significantly during the previous 24 hours. Courtesy of POVI (Volcán Villarrica, Seguimiento Científico de Actividad Volcanánica, 01 al 28 de Febrero 2017).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 47. Lava fountains exceeded 100 meters above the crater rim at Villarrica on 13 February 2017. Images captured just after midnight show the first explosion (lower right) at 0023 local time, followed two minutes later by the upper image, and another explosion (lower left) about 20 minutes later. Courtesy of POVI (Volcán Villarrica, Seguimiento Científico de Actividad Volcanánica, 01 al 28 de Febrero 2017).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 48. The active vent in the summit crater of Villarrica was about 7 m in diameter on 13 February 2017, and sporadically emitted powerful and noisy "lava jets" more than 150 m high. Courtesy of POVI (Volcán Villarrica, Seguimiento Científico de Actividad Volcanánica, 01 al 28 de Febrero 2017).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 49. Between 5 and 26 February 2017, the level of the bottom of the summit crater at Villarrica rose by about 10-12 m. Courtesy of POVI (Volcán Villarrica, Seguimiento Científico de Actividad Volcanánica, 01 al 28 de Febrero 2017).

During March 2017, OVDAS reported steam-and-gas emissions rising 1,000 m. They issued a special report on 23 March indicating an increase in the gas plume height and the occurrence of sporadic explosions of ballistic material that remained within the summit crater. Single MODVOLC thermal alerts were issued on 7 and 14 March 2017.

Nighttime incandescence and steam plumes rising to 550 m characterized activity reported by OVDAS during April 2017. Only a single MODVOLC thermal alert was issued on 4 April. Steam plumes were reported to only 250 m above the crater rim during May along with incandescence at night, but there were seven MODVOLC thermal alerts on four different days; 1 (2), 19 (3), 20, and 29 May.

Activity during June-November 2017. OVDAS reported low levels of activity during June 2017, with incandescence at night and steam plumes rising no higher than 170 m. Only a single MODVOLC thermal alert was issued on 20 June. On a visit to the summit crater on 5 June, POVI scientists observed a 10-m-diameter vent at the bottom of the crater, and lapilli fragments 2-64 mm in diameter distributed around the crater rim. A second visit on 19 June revealed increased explosive activity at the bottom of the crater, ash deposits on the inner walls of the crater, and more lapilli around the mouth of the crater (figure 50). POVI webcams recorded a significant increase in the intensity of incandescence from the summit crater on 24 June 2017 (figure 51).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 50. An increase in explosive activity with respect to that observed on 5 June was noted by POVI scientists on a visit to the summit crater of Villarrica on 19 June 2017. Fresh ash deposits and lapilli appeared on the snow around the crater rim (yellow arrows). Courtesy of POVI (Volcán Villarrica, Resumen del Comportamiento, Observado en Junio 2017).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 51. A significant increase in the intensity of the incandescence emitted from the summit crater at Villarrica was observed in the webcams during the night of 23-24 June 2017. The upper images show the incandescence in the early evening of 23 June, and the lower images were taken just after midnight on 24 June 2017 from the POVI webcam. Courtesy of POVI (Volcán Villarrica, Resumen del Comportamiento, Observado en Junio 2017).

On 1 July 2017, POVI captured a webcam image of Strombolian explosions that sent incandescent material 60 m high from the summit crater. OVDAS reported steam plumes rising no more than 550 m and incandescence at night during July; there were no reported MODVOLC thermal alerts that month, and only a single alert on 30 August. OVDAS reported steam plumes during August rising to 150 m, sporadic ash and larger pyroclastic emissions around the crater rim, and nighttime incandescence.

Activity decreased during September and October 2017, with continued steam emissions rising 300-500 m, minor ash emissions around the crater rim, and nighttime incandescence. Two MODVOLC thermal alerts were issued, on 4 and 16 September, and none during October. POVI scientists visited the summit during October 2017 and noted that the vent remained active, especially after 22 October. They observed that at least half of the inner walls of the crater were covered with fresh ash and lapilli, concentrated on the W, S, and NE sides. They estimated that the active vent was about 8 m in diameter, approximately 100 m down inside the crater (figure 52). The bottom of the crater appeared about 4 m higher than it was on 26 September 2017, and the vent diameter had expanded by 2 m. Ash and lapilli fragments were found around the edge of the crater on 15, 22, and 25 October. Ejections of small fragments of lava were captured by the webcam on 22 and 23 October.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 52. A panoramic image of the summit crater at Villarrica, looking S on 15 October 2017, showed pyroclastic material covering much of the inner surface of the crater wall. The vent was estimated to be about 8 m in diameter, at a depth of 100 m. Courtesy of POVI (Seguimiento y Estudio del Comportamiento, Volcán Villarrica, Octubre 2017).

OVDAS reported that during November 2017, the webcams near the summit showed evidence of low intensity, predominantly white degassing to low altitudes (100 m above the summit). Nighttime incandescence associated with occasional explosions around the crater were typical. They also noted that long-period (LP) seismicity increased in both energy amplitude and frequency during the last few days of the month. A gradual increase in RSAM values began on 15 November with a continuous tremor signal. A 4.1 magnitude event was reported on 24 November located 2.6 km ESE of the summit at a depth of 1.8 km. A single MODVOLC thermal alert was reported on 28 November.

Seismicity and thermal anomalies. Seismicity at Villarrica during October 2016-November 2017 was relatively stable (figure 53), although it varied between about 2,500 and 6,500 events per month, with over 90% recorded as LP events, and only a few VT (volcano-tectonic) events. The highest frequency values occurred in May (5,749) and November 2017 (6,484).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 53. Chart of the frequency of seismic events at Villarrica, October 2016-November 2017. LP are Long-Period events, and VT are Volcano-Tectonic events. Data courtesy of OVDAS, SERNAGEOMIN monthly reports.

Infrared data graphed by the MIROVA system (figure 54) indicated the continuous but decreasing frequency and intensity of thermal anomalies at Villarrica between November 2016 and November 2017.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 54. Infrared data graphed by the MIROVA system indicated the continuous but decreasing frequency and intensity of thermal anomalies at Villarrica between November 2016 and November 2017. Courtesy of MIROVA.

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: Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería, (SERNAGEOMIN), Observatorio Volcanológico de Los Andes del Sur (OVDAS), Avda Sta María No. 0104, Santiago, Chile (URL: http://www.sernageomin.cl/); Proyecto Observación Villarrica Internet (POVI) (URL: http://www.povi.cl/); Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP), MODVOLC 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://hotspot.higp.hawaii.edu/; http://modis.higp.hawaii.edu/); 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/inicio.php?lang=es); MIROVA (Middle InfraRed Observation of Volcanic Activity), a collaborative project between the Universities of Turin and Florence (Italy) supported by the Centre for Volcanic Risk of the Italian Civil Protection Department (URL: http://www.mirovaweb.it/); Cristian Gonzalez G., flickr (URL:https://www.flickr.com/photos/cg_fotografia/), photo used under Creative Commons license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/).