Chilean Puyehue-Cordón Caulle erupts, prompts evacuation of 3 500 people


There are reports from Chile that Puyehue-Cordón Caulle has erupted and produced a large plume. ‘Just after 14:40,′ reports soychile.cl, ‘a huge plume began to be visible from the district of Entre Lagos, which corresponds to the beginning of eruptive activity at Puyehue volcano’.

The Los Ríos regional government has confirmed that the eruption has begun, with ‘a strong smell of sulfur and ashes’ being discernible in the area of the volcano. The state emergencies office ONEMI has also confirmed that an eruption is under way. Buenos Aires VAAC has issued a Volcanic Ash Advisory for the eruption reporting ash from the plume at 10 km altitude (FL350, 35,000 feet a.s.l.). The ash is moving south-east, into Argentina. (TheVolcanismBlog)

A volcano dormant for decades erupted in south-central Chile Saturday, belching ash over 6 miles into the sky. The government said it was evacuating 3,500 people from the surrounding area as a precaution. The eruption in the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic chain, about 575 miles south of the capital, Santiago, also prompted Chilean authorities to shut a heavily traveled border crossing into Argentina.

Winds fanned the ash toward neighboring Argentina, darkening the sky in the ski resort city of San Carlos de Bariloche, a government official there said, adding the city's airport had been closed.

It was not immediately clear which of the chain's four volcanoes had erupted because of ash cover and weather conditions. The chain last saw a major eruption in 1960. Local media said the smell of sulfur hung in the air and there was constant seismic activity. It was the latest in a series of volcanic eruptions in Chile in recent years.

"The Cordon Caulle (volcanic range) has entered an eruptive process, with an explosion resulting in a 10-kilometre-high gas column," state emergency office ONEMI said.

Chile's chain of about 2,000 volcanoes is the world's second largest after Indonesia. Some 50 to 60 are on record as having erupted, and 500 are potentially active.

Chile's Chaiten volcano erupted spectacularly in 2008 for the first time in thousands of years, spewing molten rock and a vast cloud of ash that reached the stratosphere. The ash also swelled a nearby river and ravaged a nearby town of the same name. The ash cloud from Chaiten coated towns in Argentina and was visible from space.

Chile's Llaima volcano, one of South America's most active, erupted in 2008 and 2009. (Reuters)

Volcanism of Chile is a continuous process that has a strong influence on Chilean landscape, geology, economy and society. Volcanism constantly renews the Chilean landscape with lava flows, lava plateaus, lava domes, cinder cones, stratovolcanoes, shield volcanoes, submarine volcanoes, calderas, diatremes, and maars. However volcanism in Chile as well as in other parts of the world is also associated with several natural hazards such as lahars, earthquakes, pyroclastic flows, toxic gases and ash. Continental Chile has a high concentration of active volcanoes due to its location along the Peru-Chile Trench, a subduction zone where the Nazca and Antarctic Plates are driven beneath the South American Plate. Chile has been subject to volcanism since at least late Paleozoic when subduction along the western margin of South America began. Easter Island, Juan Fernández Islands and other oceanic islands of Chile are extinct volcanoes created by hotspots. Chile has about 500 volcanoes considered active, 60 of which have had recorded eruptions in the last 450 years. The volcanoes with most recorded eruptions are:

The Geology of Chile is mainly a product of the Andean and preceding orogenies which are caused by the long-lived convergent boundary at South America's western coast. While in the Paleozoic and Precambrian this boundary was affected by the accretion of terranes and microcontinents it has since then developed into a pure subduction zone. The subduction have shaped four features parallel to its strike; the Andes, the Intermediate Depression which is a graben and foreland basin, the Coast Range which is an accretionary wedge and horst and the Peru-Chile Trench off the coast. As Chile lies in an active continental margin, it host a large number of subduction volcanoes and nearly all of the territory of Chile is subject to earthquakes arising from strains in the subducting Nazca and Antarctic Plates or shallow strike-slip faults.

Mineral resources in the northern regions of Chile have since late 19th century made up the bulk of the country's export and state income. Chile is currently a leading producer of copper, lithium and molybdenum. Much of the countries mineral wealth have accumulated thanks to long-lived volcanic and magmatic activity as well as the extreme aridity that have prevailed over Atacama Desert for millions of years.

The Chilean territories of Easter Island, and Juan Fernández Archipelago are extinct volcanic hotspot islands in the eastward moving Nazca plate. The Antarctic Peninsula, claimed as part of the Chilean Antarctic Territory, shares a series of characteristics with the southern Andes.

Puyehue volcano chain erupts, forcing evacuation (BBC)

Due to the tectonic setting of Chile earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and mass movements are frequent. The subduction zone along Chile's coast has produced the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, the 1960 Valdivia earthquake. Earthquakes are known to have triggered eruption at volcanoes as it happened in 1960 with Cordón Caulle. Earthquakes have also produced tsunamis and even earthquakes on the other side of the Pacific Ocean have the potential of sending a tsuname wave to Chile.

Landslides may occur with some frequency in Andes of central and southern Chile, most events happens following earthquakes. The 2007 Aysen Fjord earthquake produced several landslides along the fjords mountains producing thus big tsunami-like waves inside the fjord.

Mud flows are also common in some places and occur after large rainfall events. Lahars have been are among the most lethal volcanic hazards in Chile, destroying towns such as Coñaripe in 1964. Although many lahars are triggered by volcanic eruptions they are often mistaken as unequivocal sign of eruption, which is not the case.

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