After a significant increase in seismicity which started in February, Chile's Villarrica volcano violently erupted at 06:46 UTC (03:46 local time) on March 3, 2015 ejecting magma fragments up to 1 km above the crater. Ash column reached an altitude of about 3 km and drifted east.
Authorities raised the Alert Level to Red and started evacuating nearby communities. At least three thousand people have made a voluntary evacuation in Pucon.
According to 24horas.cl the eruption was accompanied by lightning in the cone of the volcano.
OVDAS-SERNAGEOMIN reported that activity significantly increased at Villarrica during February 1 to 16, 2015 and was characterized by increased seismicity, crater incandescence, and explosions.
On February 6 seismicity increased significantly, explosions occurred in the crater, and ash emissions rose above the crater rim. The Alert Level was raised to Yellow (the second lowest level on a four-color scale).
DOAS (Differential Optical Absorption Spectrometry) data showed an average monthly sulfur dioxide emission value of 222 tons per day; a high value during this period of 450 tons per day was recorded on February 11.
The highest number of explosions, five per minute, during the period occurred on February 16. Explosions ejected incandescent material out of the crater as far as 1 km onto the S flank. During an overflight on February 16, supported by ONEMI, volcanologists observed the lava lake and recorded temperatures near 800 degrees Celsius, tephra in and around the active crater, and a diffuse layer of ash on the flanks.
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 Villarrica's flanks. Plinian eruptions and pyroclastic flows that have extended up to 20 km from the volcano have been 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 sq km of the volcano, and lahars have damaged towns on its flanks. (GVP)
Featured image: Villarrica eruption on March 3, 2015. Image credit CabroGoogleao (via Twitter)