Calbuco Erupts a Third Time, with New Mudflows

Summit view of current eruption (source:SERNAGEOMIN)

The glacier-covered volcano Calbuco in southern Chile has erupted for the third time today, after a few days of relative inactivity. It is sending forth a plume of ash 5 kilometers into the atmosphere, and it has created new mudslides, which are  associated with melting of glaciers as well as with recent rainfall.

As in its first eruption, seismic activity resumed only briefly before the eruption itself, just after 1pm local time. Though this eruption is, at least at present, smaller than the previous ones on 22 and 23 April, it is still sizable. And it has elicited a stronger reaction, including a public announcement by President Michelle Bachelet within hours of the event. She stated, “All measures are being taken. We are committed not to rest in our efforts to attend to this emergency as quickly as possible.”

Police directing evacuation near Calbuco. (source: YouTube/M.Klebek)

Both the National Service of Geology and Mines and the National Emergency Office have issued a red alert, the highest level. 6600 local residents have been evacuated, a larger number than for the previous recent eruptions of the volcano. Non-residents have been prohibited from entering the area near the volcano as well. National police have been instructed to enforce this restriction.

The new ash fall, and other volcanic debris, are likely to cause additional damage in southern Chile, which has not yet fully recovered from the ash falls of last week. The Washington Post quotes one local resident as saying,  “We were working, cleaning the ash and sand from our homes when this third eruption took place. I feel so much anger and impotence it just breaks me apart.”

Aerial view of current eruption (source: Chilean Air Force)

Meanwhile, the European MetOp satellites have been tracing the plume of aerosols from the earlier eruptions of Calbuco. As this animation shows, the aerosols have now crossed the Atlantic Ocean and have reached South Africa, where dramatic sunsets are now expected.

The webcams of the National Service of Geology and Mines have images which are a bit grainy, but are striking nonetheless.

For further details about the current eruption, read Erik Klemetti’s recent post  in WIRED.


Volcano in Chile Causes Evacuations, Damage

A major eruption of Calbuco,  a volcano in southern  Chile, has melted glacier ice, creating large flood events.

Ash cloud and lightning at Calbuco eruption (source: Ministerio del Trabaho, Chile)
Ash cloud and lightning at Volcano Calbuco  (source: Direccion del Trabajo, Chile)

The eruption on 22 April came as a near-total surprise, since it had been preceded by only two hours of increased seismic activity, according to Chile’s National Service of Geology and Mines. It shot incandescent masses of lava to a distance of over 5 kilometers. Its ash plume reached about 15 miles high, and layers of ash 40 centimeters thick have been deposited over a large area in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, threatening to contaminate water supplies and cause roofs to collapse. Government agencies in Chile placed the region on red alert, the highest warning level, and evacuated over 4000 people from Ensenada and other small towns within 20 kilometers of the volcano. The evacuated people were taken by bus to nearby cities. Officials in Puerto Montt and other cities declared curfews to prevent looting in homes and businesses. Airplane flights in the region were cancelled because of the threat of damage to the planes from ash and from the greatly reduced visibility. A second eruption took place the next day, with an ash cloud of similar height.

Early phase of eruption on 22 April (source: Facebook/Foch Metayer)
Early phase of eruption on 22 April (source: Facebook/Foch Metayer)

There have been contradictory reports about lava flows. Initial accounts mentioning a flow into a lake high on the mountain  have not been confirmed, and they may have just described pyroclastic flows—masses of hot gas and rock. Local sources state that pyroclastic flows have melted glacial ice, causing flooding in the Rio Blanco which has washed away bridges, damaged roads, and trapped individuals who cannot cross the high waters.


The scale of the eruption can be seen in this video:

Calbuco has erupted at least 10 times in the last 200 years, with several eruptions larger than the ones in the last two days. Though the volcano seems quiet at present, it may erupt again in the near future. Villarrica, another glacier-covered volcano in Chile about 290 kilometers to the north-northeast of Calbuco, had erupted earlier this year, but also remains quiet for the moment. As of the time of writing, however, the ash cloud, seen below, continues to cause damage over a large area of Chile and Argentina.

Calbuco ash clouds 23 April 2015
Ash cloud as seen from space, 23 April 2015 (source: NASA/Earth Observatory)