Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New Info On Bolivian Volcano Uturuncu Indicates Uplift Is New

The recently "awakened" supervolcano in Bolivia, Uturuncu, may have actually awakened just recently, according to new data. The data suggests that the volcano began re-inflating quite recently. In fact, a report on VolcanoDiscovery.com suggests that the uplift began as recently as 1992, according to sediment uplift data. This suggests that not only is Uturuncu awakening, it suggests that Uturuncu is quickly building up its massive magma reservoir and may actually lead to activity in the area... and at the worst case, a caldera forming super eruption.

Uturuncu has never erupted in historical time. Indeed data suggests it has not erupted for over 200,000 or more years, making it an enigma. The current uplift of approximately 1-2cm per year over a 70km wide radius from the central volcano, suggests mathematically a magma intrusion of approximately 1 cubic meter per second, from a source approximately 14km in depth, filling a much shallower 3km deep magma chamber. To keep things in perspective, this is the same approximate distance of the Yellowstone caldera's magma chamber depth.

The difference between Yellowstone and Uturuncu however is vast. Yellowstone displays far more fumerolic and hydrothermal activity, however as far as we know, it has always done so in our history. Uturuncu has been quiet during the same period of time, until now. On average, 2.6 earthquakes per day are recorded at the volcano, sometimes spiking to more than 14 quakes per day. Harmonic tremor is present at Uturuncu, unlike Yellowstone, which geologists say has not had much magma intrusion or inflation. Indeed, scientists theorize that a lot of the uplift and subsidence at the Yellowstone caldera is related to gas and water, not magma.

Uturuncu getting a fresh injection of magma after such a long time is something new to scientists. Most volcanoes that are dormant for this long tend not to erupt again... or so we thought. Many volcanoes with long periods of dormancy-- some we thought were extinct-- have recently 'activated' and erupted with incredible force. Nabro volcano in Africa, and Chaiten volcano in Chile, were both thought to be long dormant, or completely extinct. All it took for these volcanoes to "wake up" were some rather large quakes and a quick injection of fresh magma. Chaiten and Nabro volcano are still active.

This new data on Uturuncu is both fascinating and terrifying, although scientists caution not to worry or start planning your doomsday bunker just yet-- it can take thousands of years for Uturuncu's magma chamber to inflate to the point where it will actually erupt... PLENTY of time to plan for a disaster (and who knows, in 1,000+ years we might have technology that can "deflate" a volcano and prevent it from erupting catastrophically... purely in the sci-fi realm at the moment, but I don't put it past us to innovate our way out of a super eruption in the future).

There is always, however, the possibility that the volcano has simply tapped into a vast source, and will erupt without warning. It has happened to much smaller volcanoes, and rest assured it can happen to any volcano. There is truthfully no point in worrying about a super eruption from Uturuncu. Surface activity is nominal, with the same fumeroles and hot springs active that have been for thousands of years. No new surface activity like steaming, fissure cracks, etc have been observed at the site, so for now at least, there is nothing to worry about in the near-future.

Uturuncu is surrounded by the worlds largest collection of supervolcanic calderas. Millions of years ago, Bolivia was host to some of the worlds most violent eruptions, and Uturuncu is just ONE large volcano out of hundreds in the area. The area is poorly studied, so it would not surprise me in the least to learn there are several volcanoes out there that are inflating without our knowledge. Pure speculation though, and I do try to stay away from that. In any case, this data will be used to refine our understanding of supervolcanoes, and give scientists and opportunity to track the inflation of what was thought to be a long-dead mountain.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for this update on Uturuncu! I read about it a year or so ago, I think on a BBC news page. I then forgot its name and couldn't find the article. One cubic meter a second, possibly building up for a thousand years. That's a LOT of energy!

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  2. Some other interesting info is the June 2011 volcano eruption in Chile related by the blog:' Extinction Protocol' Extinction Protocol ran an article on the Chile eruption. And the article stated the ---strange---facet of this eruption,such facet was the 'enormous unusual seismic energies' present beneath the Chilean volcano and its adjacent terrain. One example of the enormous energies was the fact earthquakes 40 miles away from the volcano occurred. And even more striking, the volcano eruption itself, emerged not from dynamics or processes within the caldera itself but from these extraneous enormous underground seismic energies beneath the ground in the area around the Chilean volcano. I wonder if there is some relationship and geological similarities between the underlying energies of the Chilean June 2011 earthquake and the underlying energy forces beneath Uturuncu.

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