Eruption at Sangay volcano produces pyroclastic flows, covers several provinces in ash, Ecuador


A strong eruptive event at Ecuador's Sangay volcano on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, produced a thick column of ash that rose up to 7 km (23 000 feet) above sea level. Several provinces were covered in ash, flights delayed and some roads closed.

Ashfall was reported in the provinces of Santa Elena, Guayas, Los Ríos, Chimborazo, and Morona Santiago. The greatest ashfall was reported in the Alausí canton, Chimborazo Province. Residents living in affected regions were urged to wear protective masks.

Intermittent volcanic ash emissions were noted in infrared satellite imagery along with a brilliant hotspot at the summit, extending SE, the Washington VAAC reported at 06:22 UTC.

Remnant volcanic ash extended well W and WSW of the summit to about 300 km (185 miles) downwind, the center reported at 10:43 UTC.

Geophysical Institute of Ecuador (IGEPN) said pyroclastic flows were generated during the event and descended down the southeastern flanks of the volcano. Lava flows remain active, it added. 

Yesterday's event is most likely related to the collapse of one or more lava fronts that descended down the southeastern flank of the volcano, the institute added.

At 20:28 UTC, the volcanic ash cloud was extending 400 km (250 miles) W with the highest concentrations centered 50 km (31 miles) W of the summit. Emissions appeared to be decreasing in intensity.

Image credit: Copernicus EU/Sentinel-2, Antonio Vecoli. Acquired June 9, 2020

Continuous puffs were again reported at 02:05 UTC on June 10, extending up to 85 km (50 miles) from the summit. Models indicated continued movement toward the W.

Images courtesy IGEPN. Acquired June 9, 2020

Benjamin Bernard of the IGEPN said the ash spread into Guayas province, with a 'quantity arriving ner Guayaquil.'

Guayaquil airport halted all flights until they cleaned the runway, airport authorities said. The city is located 175 km (110 miles) W of Sangay.

Several roads in the provinces of Los Rios and Chimborazo were reportedly closed due to heavy ashfall.

Residents in affected regions, especially Guayaquil, were asked to wear protective masks to avoid respiratory problems.

The volcano is located in the Morona Santiago province, 41 km (25 miles) north-west of the city of Macas. 

The current eruptive period began in May 2019 and remains to this day. The activity is characterized by the generation of lava flows, pyroclastic density currents (pyroclastic flows), and gas and ash emissions.

Geological summary

The isolated Sangay volcano, located east of the Andean crest, is the southernmost of Ecuador's volcanoes and its most active. The steep-sided, glacier-covered, dominantly andesitic volcano grew within horseshoe-shaped calderas of two previous edifices, which were destroyed by collapse to the east, producing large debris avalanches that reached the Amazonian lowlands.

The modern edifice dates back to at least 14 000 years ago. It towers above the tropical jungle on the east side; on the other sides flat plains of ash have been sculpted by heavy rains into steep-walled canyons up to 600 m (1 979 feet) deep. The earliest report of a historical eruption was in 1628. More or less continuous eruptions were reported from 1728 until 1916, and again from 1934 to the present.

The almost constant activity has caused frequent changes to the morphology of the summit crater complex. This volcano is located within the Sangay National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage property.

Featured image credit: IGEPN

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