Recent earthquakes and the opening of new vents at the summit of the Nevados de Chillán mountain range, have experts on edge about a possible eruption, in an area that has been unusually quiet since its last eruption in 2003.
The situation continues to escalate in Chile with a new vent uncovered in December and another one in January, both accompanied by small seismic events. The rise in activity prompted The Chilean National Geology and Mining Service (SERNAGEOMIN) to issue a yellow warning, signaling an intermediate level of danger from a possible eruption.
To monitor the situation more closely, SERNAGEOMIN officials installed webcams around the new vent on January 27th. Surprisingly, the cameras revealed new clouds of ash on January 29th and upon further investigation, a new crater between 25-30 meters in diameter was discovered. The volcanoes activity seems to be steadily increasing.
Although the recent uptick is causing some anxiety, local experts suggest the most likely scenario is not a massive eruption. Temperatures at the summit remain about 125 degrees Celsius, which is consistent with hydrothermal activity, but does not indicate an imminent threat from rising lava. However, officials are still taking safety precautions creating a 2-km zone around the newly discovered crater from which people are excluded.
Dave McGarvie who is a volcanologist in the area seems to echo the same cautious yet realistic sentiment. On his blog, McGarvie writes: “This latest unrest could be a damp squib and we may see nothing more than the current puffs of particulate matter being ejected a few hundred metres above the new vent, rather like the tiny 2003 eruption. Or we may (more excitingly) see magma rise to the surface and effuse out of the new vent to produce steep blocky lava flows that slowly pour down the sides of the Nuevo-Arrau cones. The above two scenarios are the most likely ones based on the past activity that built the Nuevo and Arrau cones. I’d be surprised if there was a massive explosive eruption that produced a Plinian eruption column, but volcanologists always have in the back of their minds a number of ‘worst-case’ and ‘unlikely’ scenarios – just so they have done a bit of thinking about them on a just-in-case basis.”
Officials also highlight other risks such as wildfires since it has been an especially dry summer in Chile. Even a small eruption could trigger many sporadic wildfires which would be almost impossible to control.
Subsequently, the next weeks and months will provide more information on this developing situation. Until then, have a look at this recent video of the Nevados de Chillán volcano range showing a burst of ash and some deep Earthly rumblings.