Thursday, January 2, 2014

Little Known Palena Volcanic Group In Chile Has Eruption

It appears that on Dec 22, a volcanic group in Chile may have had eruption, possibly for the first time in the historical record. The Palena Volcanic Group, which is described by the Smithsonian GVP as "The Palena volcano group consists of five cinder cones oriented along a NNE trend NE of Melimoyu volcano. The youthful volcanoes, which are named after the middle cone, are Holocene in age (Moreno 1985, pers. comm.)" has not had any confirmed historical eruptions. If this is true, it would mark the first observed activity in this chain of cinder cones.

I went to check out the location via Google Earth, and was only able to visually identify 3 obvious cinder cones, to the SW and NE of where the GVP marker was (Image below) so it is not clear exactly where this eruptive center (if an eruption is occurring) is located. The cones I was looking at look to be monogenetic in nature, heavily vegetated, but pretty fresh looking morphologically.


Screenshot of location for Palena Volcanic Group with 3 cones identified by marker pins, from Google Earth. 

If this report is true, this would mark the 2nd volcano in recent history with no known eruptions to pop off in less than a decade, after the spectacular and unexpected rhyolitic eruption of Chaiten. However, analysis from seems to indicate that this may not in fact be the case, as SERNAGEOMIN has failed to identify any seismic signals, or verify any eruption has actually taken place. As stated by regarding the image (below), while this looks like an ash/eruption plume, it could also have been a wildfire that was mistaken for an eruption. Only time will tell.

Image from showing purported eruption in Palena volcanic group (photo: A Gillmore / Twitter)
Judging from the photographic evidence so far, and having lived through a multitude of wildfires here in San Diego, CA, this looks a lot more like a wildfire than it does a volcanic eruption, and indeed, a wildfire on a volcano can and has stirred up older ash from eruptions when it becomes swept up in the fierce fire-driven winds. So what we're looking at could possibly be a combination of wildfire ash, and older volcanic ash. I'll reserve judgment however until the science is in.

If this turns out to be a real eruption and not simply a coincidental wildfire on a volcano, this would be scientifically significant, especially regarding lower Andean eruptions. Recent large quakes along Chile's subduction zone ranging from 7.0-8.8 may have altered magmatic systems for some long dormant volcanoes, which is entirely possible, and could help to explain why some volcanoes in Chile remain dormant for so long, and seemingly randomly wake up.


  1. Hi! Nice post about Palena. Indeed it was a wildfire. I think I have located the remaining cone, and it's just next to the number 3 (to the SW); you can see it directly changing the perspective (smaller than the others)
    That's all. Greetings from Chile

    1. Thanks and hello! I'm glad you liked the post! Very glad to hear it was a wildfire after all!

    2. In fact I was who alerted GVP about there were wildfires.
      Here´s a post I made of the local volcanoes and I put a pic of the northernmost Palena cone (thx Google StreetView)


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