Thursday, December 8, 2011

Uturuncu Decoded, Magma Injecting Into Deep Chamber, Upset By Earthquakes

In an earlier post about the Bolivian volcano Uturuncu, I had pointed out that this volcano was rapidy inflating at a rate of up to 1.5cm a year (breakneck inflation geologically speaking). At the time I was not able to find out a whole lot of info about Uturuncu volcano, but the story I wrote got massive attention by several websites, and eventually some of the more professional media picked up on the story. I'll provide links to those articles below.

After reading the articles, which actually include a comprehensive scientific analysis of Uturuncu and its magma chamber, it has become apparent that this is a volcano to keep an eye on. It is massive, and has active fumeroles at the summit, however it has not erupted for hundreds of thousands of years. The article states that seismicity has been mapped, and a low-velocity zone lies underneath the volcano. They are at this point assuming that the low velocity zone implies partially melted crustal material, which they refer to as "crystal mush". This is similar to Yellowstone Volcano's low-velocity zone, and Campi Flegrei, Naples.

The articles and scientific analysis state that after a large 8.8 earthquake in the area in 2010, hundreds of quakes were recorded afterward under Uturuncu. This means that the crust has become upset with the activity, and is allowing magma to feed into the chamber of Uturuncu, thus the inflation we are seeing today. This does not, however, mean an eruption is imminent or close to happening. Magma chambers often can inflate with little to no surface activity... just look at Yellowstone.

Indeed due to the size of the volcano, the pressures would need to be IMMENSE to cause a full scale eruption, and at this point that is unlikely to occur in a short period of time. If inflation is consistent and the uplift does not cease at some point, this likely would lead to a large eruption. Thankfully, this volcano is not very close to any population centers, but an explosion would likely generate a very significant amount of ash, which can travel very long distances once it is picked up by the jetstream.

Check out the links below and get all the cool facts about this fascinating sleeping giant!

http://www.science20.com/tuff_guy/earthquakes_uturuncu_volcano-85017
http://www.springerlink.com/content/p2q52un028226h7v/

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