South American volcano showing early warning signs of 'potential collapse', research shows

February 18, 2020

South American volcano showing early warning signs of 'potential collapse', research shows

One of South America's most prominent volcanoes is producing early warning signals of a potential collapse, new research has shown.

Tungurahua volcano in Ecuador - known locally as "The Black Giant" - is displaying the hallmarks of flank instability, which could result in a colossal landslide.

New research, led by Dr James Hickey from the Camborne School of Mines, has suggested that the volcano's recent activity has led to significant rapid deformation on the western flank.

The researchers believe that the driving force causing this deformation could lead to an increased risk of the flank collapsing, causing widespread damage to the surrounding local area.

The research recommends the volcano should be closely monitored to watch for stronger early warning signs of potential collapse.

The study is published in the journal Earth & Planetary Science Letters.

Dr Hickey, who is based at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus, Cornwall, said: "Using satellite data we have observed very rapid deformation of Tungurahua's west flank, which our research suggests is caused by imbalances between magma being supplied and magma being erupted".

Tungurahua volcano has a long history of flank collapse, and has also been frequently active since 1999. The activity in 1999 led to the evacuation of 25,000 people from nearby communities.

A previous eruption of Tungurahua, around 3,000 years ago, caused a prior, partial collapse of the west flank of the volcanic cone.

This collapse led to a wide-spread debris avalanche of moving rock, soil, snow and water that covered 80 square kilometres - the equivalent of more than 11,000 football fields.

Since then, the volcano has steadily been rebuilt over time, peaking with a steep-sided cone more than 5000 m in height.

However, the new west flank, above the site of the 3000 year old collapse, has shown repeated signs of rapid deformation while the other flanks remain stable.

The new research has shown that this deformation can be explained by shallow, temporary magma storage beneath the west flank. If this magma supply is continued, the sheer volume can cause stress to accumulate within the volcanic cone - and so promote new instability of the west flank and its potential collapse.

Dr Hickey added: "Magma supply is one of a number of factors that can cause or contribute to volcanic flank instability, so while there is a risk of possible flank collapse, the uncertainty of these natural systems also means it could remain stable. However, it's definitely one to keep an eye on in the future."
-end-
Rapid localized flank inflation and implications for potential slope instability at Tungurahua volcano, Ecuador is published in the journal Earth & Planetary Science Letters. It is available to view here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0012821X20300479

University of Exeter

Related Volcano Articles from Brightsurf:

Using a volcano's eruption 'memory' to forecast dangerous follow-on explosions
Stromboli, the 'lighthouse of the Mediterranean', is known for its low-energy but persistent explosive eruptions, behaviour that is known scientifically as Strombolian activity.

Rebirth of a volcano
Continued volcanic activity after the collapse of a volcano has not been documented in detail so far.

Optical seismometer survives "hellish" summit of Caribbean volcano
The heights of La Soufrière de Guadeloupe volcano can be hellish, sweltering at more than 48 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) and swathed in billows of acidic gas.

Researchers reveal largest and hottest shield volcano on Earth
Researchers from the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa revealed the largest and hottest shield volcano on Earth--Pūhāhonu, a volcano within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Formation of a huge underwater volcano offshore the Comoros
A submarine volcano was formed off the island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean in 2018.

Volcano F is the origin of the floating stones
Since August a large accumulation of pumice has been drifting in the Southwest Pacific towards Australia.

Researchers discover a new, young volcano in the Pacific
Researchers from Tohoku University have discovered a new petit-spot volcano at the oldest section of the Pacific Plate.

What happens under the Yellowstone Volcano
A recent study by Bernhard Steinberger of the German GeoForschungsZentrum and colleagues in the USA helps to better understand the processes in the Earth's interior beneath the Yellowstone supervolcano.

Geoengineering versus a volcano
Major volcanic eruptions spew ash particles into the atmosphere, which reflect some of the Sun's radiation back into space and cool the planet.

How to recognize where a volcano will erupt
Eleonora Rivalta and her team from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, together with colleagues from the University Roma Tre and the Vesuvius Observatory of the Italian Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia in Naples have devised a new method to forecast volcanic vent locations.

Read More: Volcano News and Volcano Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.