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Two years on at Chaitén 2 May 2010

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View of Chaitén caldera and lava dome before the May 2008 eruption, © Eric Manríquez
View of Chaitén caldera and lava dome before the May 2008 eruption (© Eric Manríquez).

The eruption of Chaitén volcano in southern Chile began two years ago today, on 2 May 2008. Since that date eruptive activity at the volcano has continued uninterrupted: the intensity has varied, but the activity has never ceased.

View from May 2009 of the dome complex (courtesy Mr Javier Romero, Vialidad MOP, Puerto Montt)
View from May 2009 of the Chaitén dome complex (courtesy Mr Javier Romero, Vialidad MOP, Puerto Montt).

During the coming week, to mark the second anniversary of Chaitén’s awakening, there’ll be a series of posts here at the Volcanism Blog looking at various aspects – volcanological, social, economic and environmental – of this remarkable and endlessly fascinating eruption.

Secuencia de imagenes del volcan Chaiten correspondientes al mes de Marzo del 2010 (SERNAGEOMIN)
Sequence of images of the Chaitén lava dome during March 2010 (SERNAGEOMIN).

[The first illustration above, showing Chaitén before the eruption, was originally published here in May 2008; the second is from SERNAGEOMIN bulletin no. 91, translated here in May 2009; and the third is from the March 2010 bulletin (PDF) issued by SERNAGEOMIN which we will be reporting here very shortly.]

UPDATE. Family problems of a serious nature mean I’ve been unable to provide the Chaitén coverage promised in this post – please accept my sincere apologies. I will catch up with Chaitén, and with much else, when I am able to do so.

For all our Chaitén coverage: Chaitén « The Volcanism Blog.

The Volcanism Blog

Keeping up with Chaitén via the DGAC and OVDAS webcams 2 May 2010

Posted by admin in Chaitén, Chile, volcano monitoring, volcanoes.
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For the last two years we have been watching the Chaitén volcanic eruption through the cameras operated by the Chilean civil aviation authority, the Dirección General de Aeronáutica Civil de Chile (DGAC), at Chaitén airfield. The DGAC deserves congratulations for keeping those cameras working night and day, through the sometimes very difficult conditions thrown up by the weather and the volcano.

The DGAC does not deserve any congratulations, however, for redesigning their website without a thought for their visitors and rendering all former URLs invalid. There’s no attempt to forward you to the new page, or even to help you find it: ‘no es posible encontrar la página solicitada’, they say, as if it’s your fault for asking. The outcome is that all previous links to the Chaitén cameras on this blog and everywhere else are now broken. And it’s not as if the newly re-designed site is any better than its predecessor: it’s still script-heavy, ugly, and slow. Anyway, the new links are as follows:

  • Cámaras de Chile: List of DGAC airfield cameras (with a map to show you where they are)
  • Aeródromo Chaitén: page for the two Chaitén airfield cameras (showing the current images alongside an archive image for reference)
  • Chaitén Cámara Norte: Chaitén airfield north-facing camera, the one that shows the volcano (current image, and archived images for the previous three hours)
  • Chaitén Cámara S-Este: Chaitén airfield south-east-facing camera, the one that shows the river (current image, and archived images for the previous three hours)

As for one Chilean state agency site that could do with a radical redesign, that of the Observatorio Volcanológico de los Andes del Sur (OVDAS), it continues unaltered, a visual and organizational catastrophe and a potent demonstration of everything you shouldn’t do when designing a website. But at least the locations of the OVDAS Chaitén cameras are unchanged:

For all our Chaitén coverage: Chaitén « The Volcanism Blog.

The Volcanism Blog

Chilean volcanoes: all quiet after the earthquake, reports SERNAGEOMIN 5 March 2010

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Villarrica volcano 5 March 2010 (OVDAS Pucon webcam)
Villarrica volcano from the Pucón webcam, 5 March 2010 (OVDAS).

In the wake of the M8.8 earthquake of 27 February, which led to speculation about the quake’s possible effects on the local volcanoes, the Chilean state geological service SERNAGEOMIN carried out an evaluation of activity at the volcanoes that are currently monitored in Chile. On 3 March a special volcanic activity bulletin was issued reporting that there is nothing unusual going on at any of the monitored Chilean volcanoes: ‘the levels and characteristics of seismic activity at Llaima, Villarrica, Chaitén, Mocho-Choshuenco, Osorno, Carrán, Calbuco and San Pedro volcanoes have shown no significant changes associated with the seismic event and activity is currently stable’. The caldera webcam at Chaitén ‘shows that the dome remains stable’, and the cameras at Llaima ‘show no significant changes in the fumarolic activity or the morphology’ of the volcano. The Villarrica webcams show ‘no major morphological change in its surface’, and visual observations of Osorno, Calbuco and Yate ‘show no abnormal situations’. (Chilean volcano webcams can be accessed via the OVDAS website.)

An overflight of Villarrica and Mocho-Choshuenco volcanoes took place on 28 February, to ‘evaluate possible changes both in activity and in glaciers and flanks’. The overflight revealed a gas and water vapour fumarole at Villarrica: this activity is described as ‘within the normal state’ of the volcano. No activity was seen at El Mocho volcano. The bulletin also notes the following observations:

The icecap on Villarrica volcano showed some new cracks and fissures on the flanks of the principal cone near the summit, caused by the 27 February earthquake, although the dimensions were smaller than those routinely present in the icecap. In addition, some small falls of ice were observed on the south flank and a small snow avalanche on the north-west flank. In the upper part of the cone of Villarrica volcano and on the north, north-west and west flanks abundant falls of rock from the summit onto the icecap and, locally, on escarpments of the flanks. In the case of Mocho volcano, small cracks were observed only on the south-east flank of the cone, the rest of the icecap showed no changes.

The OVDAS Pucón webcam shows Villarrica producing a faint fumarole this morning (see picture above).

The Volcanism Blog

Random rumblings: hydrothermal vents re-colonized from afar, Yellowstone swarm, Krakatoa, Mauna Kea testbed, and MSH spiders to Chaitén 2 March 2010

Posted by admin in Chaitén, Chile, current research, Hawaii, Indonesia, Krakatau, United States.
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Hydrothermal vents sometimes colonized from afar (Science News) – ‘Field studies at a hydrothermal vent system where all life was snuffed out by a massive undersea volcanic eruption reveal that these habitats can be repopulated in a matter of months by larvae from distant vents. … Water samples taken near the vents in May 2006 contained the larvae of Ctenopelta porifera, a rock-clinging gastropod called a limpet. By July, these fast-growing creatures had colonized the rocks around the eruption-sterilized vents; by October, they were mature and reproducing. … the nearest hydrothermal system known to host that species is located more than 300 kilometers away.’

Recent Yellowstone earthquake swarm was the second-largest ever (Denver Post) – ‘The Yellowstone earthquake swarm that began on Jan. 17 and ended on Feb. 11 was the second-largest earthquake swarm ever at Yellowstone National Park, according to scientists at the University of Utah. … Not only was the swarm the second-largest ever recorded at Yellowstone but it was longer in time and included more earthquakes than last year’s swarm beneath Yellowstone Lake, which occurred in December 2008 and January 2009, according to the scientists.’

Krakatoa’s child smokes with magic fire in belly (The Age) – ‘As the boat approached Anak Krakatau, the atmosphere was eerie. The smoke of the seasonal forest fires drifting from Sumatra made visibility poor and, before we even sighted the volcano, we heard it: a deep, otherworldly rumble. Then, out of the haze, materialised the cone of Anak Krakatau. Within minutes, thick grey ash billowed out of its caldera into the sky.’

Into the mouth of a volcano (Astrobiology Magazine) – ‘Dr. Inge Ten Kate, a University of Maryland Baltimore County research assistant, led an expedition into a cinder cone atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii, to test the prototype for an instrument that will be a miniature laboratory to discover the composition of rocks and atmospheres on moons, asteroids, and planets across the solar system. … Why a volcano? “The terrain and composition are similar to what we expect to find on the Moon, asteroids, and Mars,” says Ten Kate. “Also, there will be outgassing from the volcano, so we can test our ability to measure trace gases in atmospheres. Finally, the differences among various areas on the volcano’s cinder cone will be subtle, so it’s a good test of our sensitivity and our ability to distinguish different regions.”‘

Mount St. Helens ‘spiders’ will get tryout on Chilean volcano (The Oregonian) – Geological ‘spiders’ packed with instruments to monitor the heaves, sighs and belches of Mount St. Helens, are expected to migrate south this month. Two of the contraptions are headed to Chaiten, a volcano in Chile that began erupting in 2008 after about 9,000 years of dormancy. … The machines helped give the USGS sufficient information to declare in January 2008 that Mount St. Helens recent eruptive phase was over. That kind of certainty is needed at Chaiten, said John Ewert, a volcanologist in the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program. “It’s always hard enough to know when they’ll start erupting,” said Ewert, part of the team that visited the Chilean volcano in January. “It’s even harder to tell when they’ll stop.”‘

The Volcanism Blog

NASA Earth Observatory: Chaitén volcano and surrounding area 1 March 2010

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Chaiten volcano and surrounding area (NASA Aqua MODIS image, 25 February 2010)

At the NASA Earth Observatory a new natural colour image of Chile’s Chaitén volcano and the surrounding area has been published in the Natural Hazards category. Captured on 25 February 2010 by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite, the image shows the large area of recent grey ash deposits around Chaitén volcano and the ash-choked rivers draining the area. The site of Chaitén town, dangerous and officially abandoned but still, apparently, a tourist magnet, can be seen at the mouth of the river to the south of the volcano.

Chaitén volcano and the surrounding area – NASA Earth Observatory, 26 February 2010

For all our Chaitén coverage: Chaitén « The Volcanism Blog.

The Volcanism Blog

Chaitén and the follies of the press 23 February 2010

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Chilean newspaper El Repuerto has harsh words today for the sensationalist reporting by some sections of the press of the recent ‘red alert’ story. Under the rather neat headline ‘Chaitén: entre la alerta roja y la prensa amarilla’ (‘Chaitén: between red alert and yellow journalism’), the article points out that the red alert was nothing new and SERNAGEOMIN were simply reminding everyone that the volcano remained dangerous.

The writer argues that the press, however, were not interested in the facts, just in headlines about looming catastrophe. Nor are journalists generally interested in the South of Chile (or Argentina, for that matter), they only discover the place exists when they can write about a disaster there:

Once again grandiloquent journalism tempts us with its follies. This time it’s about the South, which exists, when convenient. ‘Red alert in Chaitén’, read the lurid headlines as old archive material showing southern localities under ash was dusted off.

Coverage in the Argentinan Clarín newspaper is held up as a particular example of the sensationalized reporting the writer is condemning.

(Under the ‘any volcano will do’ rules applying to the images used in news reports dealing with volcanic activity, El Repuerto‘s article is illustrated with a picture of Cleveland volcano in Alaska.)

The Volcanism Blog

Chaitén: tourists flood in, despite red alert 18 February 2010

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The Chilean state emergencies office ONEMI has felt the need to remind everyone that Chaitén volcano in southern Chile is still dangerous and on red alert. Recently activity at Chaitén had appeared to be in decline, but in a bulletin issued on 15 February 2010 ONEMI notes that ‘although seismic activity has declined overall in recent months’ there was an increase in the number of events recorded during the period 21 January to 5 February (as reported in SERNAGEOMIN’s bulletin for that period) and warns that the continuing seismic activity around the volcano and constant gas emissions and incandescence at the dome suggest that ‘the volcanic system retains a high degree of instability’, and that the danger of collapses, explosions and debris flows remains, meaning that red alert still applies to Chaitén.

This reminder that Chaitén remains dangerous may have been at least partly provoked by an influx of tourists, both Chilean and foreign, to the area. The officially abandoned town of Chaitén seems to have been playing host to large numbers of visitors. ‘All the [tourist] cabins are open, and other hotels as well. It’s surprising how many gringos are walking the streets’, says one local. Another dismisses the red alert warning as ‘a lie told by the Government … there has been no shaking, and there is nothing stopping people coming’. The pressure group ‘Hijos y Amigos de Chaitén’ (sons and friends of Chaitén) also attacked the Government for issuing the warnings: ‘The situation is completely normal today. There are no tremors, no fumaroles, ONEMI is lying’, says the group’s chairwoman, Rita Gutiérrez. Local councillor Bernardo Riquelme claims that a group of tourists have recently climbed the volcano and encountered neither tremors nor emissions. La Tercera reports that visitors to Chaitén are up by 50% on this time last year: ‘There is no light and no drinking water, but this does not prevent the flow of visitors that has increased in the last few months’.

In neighbouring Argentina there is anger at the ‘alarmist’ nature of some of the Argentinian press reporting of the Chaitén (and Llaima) warnings. The Patagonian paper Diario El Chubut reports the comments of one ‘visibly annoyed’ Environment Ministry official in Esquel who criticizes uncritical and sensationalist reporting by the press ‘who wanted to report something much more catastrophic than the reality’. The national press in Argentina, he complains, failed to communicate with either the Chilean or the Argentinian authorities, and put out distorted and alarmist reports based on their misunderstandings of the information released in Chile: ‘These are … technical reports intended for technicians, and it often happens that these reports come into the hands of untrained people who end up distorting the information’.

For all our Chaitén coverage: Chaitén « The Volcanism Blog.

Arribo de turistas chilenos y extranjeros a Chaitén crece 50%La Tercera, 9 February 2010
Chaitén recibe cientos de turistas – Publimetro, 16 February 2010
Residentes de Chaitén afirman que ‘no hay temblores ni fumaroles’ en la zona – Terra.cl, 16 February 2010
Critican a la prensa nacional por cobertura alarmista en torno al volcán ChaiténDiario El Chubut, 18 February 2010

Global Volcanism Program: Chaitén – summary information for Chaitén (1508-41)
SERNAGEOMIN – Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería
Erupción del Volcán Chaitén – extensive coverage of the Chaitén eruption

The Volcanism Blog

Those Chaitén webcams: a reminder 16 February 2010

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We’re overdue for a Chaitén update here at The Volcanism Blog. I hope to be able to publish a Chaitén post tomorrow or on Thursday (a busy couple of days lie ahead for me, hence the vagueness of this schedule).

In the meantime, here’s a reminder of where to find webcam images of Chaitén. There are now two cameras, our old friend the DGAC (Chilean Civil Aviation Directorate) camera at Chaitén airfield, and the new OVDAS (Observatorio Volcanológico de los Andes del Sur) camera overlooking the caldera. The latter was installed very recently and lots of people seem to be unaware of it (although a post about it was published here earlier this month, thanks to tip-offs from our friends Guillermo and Boris Behncke). The new camera gives a very good close-up view of the Chaitén caldera.

Links to the Chaitén webcams:
DGAC camera at Chaitén airfield
OVDAS camera at Chaitén caldera

OVDAS now has several webcams offering views of notable Chilean volcanoes. They can be accessed via the front page of the shocking OVDAS website, or, conveniently, from this earlier Volcanism Blog post.

The Volcanism Blog

New OVDAS webcam for Chaitén 4 February 2010

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Webcams have been proliferating of late at the Observatorio Volcanológico de los Andes del Sur (OVDAS) in Chile: nine are now linked from the main page of the OVDAS website. The latest addition is a new webcam for Chaitén, giving a view of the caldera, with an image that updates every 10 seconds or so. At the moment it’s the early hours of the morning in southern Chile and the camera shows only darkness, so I can’t say anything about what the image is like or even if it is actually working or not. Anyway, here’s the link:

Chaitén caldera webcam

[Thanks to Guillermo for the tip.]

For all our Chaitén coverage: Chaitén « The Volcanism Blog.

The Volcanism Blog

Chaitén bulletins: no. 111 (1 December 2009) and no. 112 (15 December 2009) 14 January 2010

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The two most recent Chaitén bulletins from SERNAGEOMIN to be made publicly available (via the SEGEMAR website and at Werner Luis’s Chaitén site) are no. 111 covering 14 November to 1 December 2009 (PDF) and no. 112 covering 1-15 December 2009 (PDF). Translations as follows.


1. Visual monitoring

The area of Chaitén volcano has remained covered by cloud for most of this period, because of the poor weather conditions. Nevertheless, OVDAS personnel based in the area were able to observe an increase in fumarolic activity on 18 November characterized by a column of some 3,000 m altitude, principally composed of water vapour (Fig. 1). This activity was related to rumbling sounds and a slight increase in seismicity recorded on that day.

Moreover, on 22 November the DGAC camera recorded a vigorous emission of steam, gases and ash with an altitude not surpassing 1000 m above the dome complex (Fig. 2).

Figure 1.
Figure 1. Image acquired from Chaitén on 18 November (SERNAGEOMIN).

Figure 2.
Figure 2. Images from the DGAC camera in Chaitén recorded on 22 November. [Click image to enlarge.]


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