A Powerful Volcanic Blast That Took Scientists By Surprise

By Brett Israel | October 9, 2009 12:47 am

Chilean-volcanoSome of the world’s baddest volcanoes, like Chile’s Chaitén volcano that erupted in 2008, are actually even worse than scientists previously thought. A study of Chaitén’s eruption revealed that locals only had 30 hours to to flee from first time they felt rumbling, not the weeks or months that it typically takes a volcano to go from tremors to eruption. That’s because Chaitén is a rhyolitic volcano; these volcanoes are largely fueled by a silica-based, very flow-resistant magma and they tend to build pressure over time before erupting violently [National Geographic News]. Thousands were able to escape before Chaitén’s blast, but scientists are warning that others living in the shadow of a rhyolitic volcano may not be so lucky.

The magma of the Chaitén volcano traveled up to 3 feet per second, according to the study published in Nature. It shot from a depth of more than five kilometres [3 miles] to the surface in about four hours…. The violent and unexpected nature of the blasts, together with their rarity, means the Chaiténeruption is the first rhyolite event to have been scientifically assessed in this way [ABC News]. In the U.S. there are large rhyolitic volcanoes in Wyoming, California, and New Mexico as well as in the Japanese islands and New Zealand’s Taupo Volcanic Zone. Scientists are saying that even though rhyolitic eruptions are rare, the study should serve as a warning call to step up monitoring of potentially active volcanoes.

Related Content:
80beats: In the Permian Period, Erupting Super-Volcanoes May Have Killed Half the Planet
80beats: Forget “The Asteroid”: Could Supervolcanoes Have Killed the Dinosaurs?
80beats: Undersea Volcanoes Decimated Marine Life in the Primordial Oceans

Image: Jonathan Castro

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment
  • Thunderegg

    The author forgot Oregon for rhyolitic volcanoes ! Oregon has rhyolite (high silica lava) all over the place ! What does this knowledge portend about Yellowstone ? Yellowstone is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the entire world and it’s also the rhyolitic type. Yellowstone has been rumbling and burping for many years and is currently even heaving ! If this is new knowledge about rhyolitic volcanoes then Yellowstone needs a whole new assessment, though there’s nothing we could do other than perhaps move to other continents and even that might not be enough. Space travel anyone ?

  • http://www.karendionne.net Karen Dionne

    Fascinating article!

    I visited Chaiten Volcano in April 2009 and hiked to within one mile of the lava dome where I saw steam vents, heard explosions coming from the caldera, and felt a small earthquake. I posted my thoughts on the situation in the town in an essay at The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karen-dionne/chaitn-volcano—one-year_b_196738.html

    I also posted photos and video of both the volcano and the destruction in the town on my blog, if anyone is interested: http://boilingpoint-thenovel.blogspot.com/

  • Henny Penny

    Well don’t come to Illinois, we are overdue for an earthquake on the new madrid fault line. Last time we had one Lincoln was president, and the whole Mississippi river shifted! I have a spectacular view of Chicagos skyline that’s gonna look like the end of Fight Club.

    If Yellowstone blows we are all f_’d so enjoy the view.

  • dave

    Is there no way to releave the pressure from Yellowstone so it doesnt blow.

  • don

    Let’s get Al Gore on it. He can stop the contribution of volcanoes to the global warming crisis. Funny that these don’t get included in discussions about global warming, hmm?

  • http://antiagingcareguide.com Rafael Nadal

    Fantastic playing at Roland-Garros Nadal hard to image that this is his 6th Roland-Garros Championship

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