By Phil Plait | February 13, 2011 12:08 pm

I don’t post every volcano image that passes by, but there are a few that catch my eye for some reason or another. Like this one, the Ubinas volcano in Peru:

[Click to hephaestenate.]

Wow. Even though I know the power and fury of these mighty beasts, they are just so simply lovely when seen from space! This one — snapped by NASA’s Earth Observing-1 satellite — looks like it’s been sculpted out of clay, but in fact is Peru’s most active volcano (in 2006 an eruption causes quite a stir for nearby towns), so the summit and surrounding areas are covered in fresh lava. There are no trees, no plants; just barren, alien rock. The whole region for kilometers around looks like another planet.

The last eruption was just last year, explaining the fresh look to it. You can see a small collapse funnel in it, though "small" is relative, it’s 200 meters deep. I also noticed that there is a summit collapse to the south, which is a feature of many stratovolcanoes. Part of the cone collapses and there can be sideways explosions, or pyroclastic flows (floods of searing hot ash) blasting horizontally. That southern break in the caldera leads to a canyon, which in turn (as can be seen in the high-res version of the image) leads to what looks like a huge rift on the right. As beautiful as it is from space, that’s basically the last place I’d like to be standing if this guy decides to throw a hissy fit.

This area is a subduction zone; the Nazca Pacific tectonic plate is sliding under the South American plate. Where this happens on Earth there are volcanoes (this one is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire) and earthquakes; the monster magnitude 8.8 Chilean earthquake last year was triggered by the subducting plate in fact.

Studying volcanoes means understanding tectonics better, and that means understanding earthquakes better, and that means saving thousands of lives and perhaps billions of dollars. And that’s a fine, fine idea.

Image credit: Robert Simmon, using ALI data from the NASA EO-1 team.

Related posts:

Mt. Etna erupts! (includes gallery of awesome volcanoes from space)
Volcano study in red
Fire and ice
Sunrise eruption

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: EO-1, Peru, Ubinas, volcano

Comments (20)

Links to this Post

  1. Volcanoes from overhead « A long, strange trip | February 13, 2011
  1. Wow…that’s some seriously harsh terrain! Looks more like something on Mars or Venus than Earth…I thought you could see reddish lava in there too but I think it’s just a result of the imaging.

  2. It is indeed a nice picture of Ubinas. One thing though: Ubinas is what we’d call a composite volcano rather than a stratovolcano (by the by, check the word in your post), although the terms are still used by many interchangeably. The real difference is that a stratovolcano doesn’t have overlapping vents/edifices, so they look like the classic, cone-shaped volcano (think like Mayon in the Philippines). Composite volcanoes are more of a mish-mash, like scoops of ice cream stacked on each other (like Shasta in California) and Ubinas has this shape as it is three overlapping volcanoes. Cool stuff nevertheless.

  3. startovolcanoes = stratovolcanoes (feel free to delete this if you fix it)

  4. Maybe startovolcanoes are your basic entry-level beginner versions….a turnkey approach to the complicated but exciting field of strombolian action. ūüėČ

  5. DrFlimmer

    Volcanos are very fascinating, but only from very far away. Thank god, I AM far away from any.

  6. James H.

    B. O’Reilly: Volcanoes! Can’t Explain That! Ok sorry couldn’t resist…

  7. Jeffersonian

    Ubinas is interesting, for sure. It was dormant for so long and then sprung to life. It’s an interesting part of the Andes. The Andes, being the longest surface feature on the planet, they run through a multitude of climates. You might expect an 18,000′ mountain to have permanent snow features but this is in a super-dry area, even at altitude (and even equatorial Andes are glacier-covered so it depends on atmosphere, not latitude). Ubinas is in the same volcanic field as Chachani (one of the 6km peaks of the western hemisphere).

  8. Oli

    Nothing goes in, lava comes out. Can’t explain that.

  9. Ron1

    Gorgeous image Phil.

    What I find very interesting are the roads on the south side of of the crater. The West-East running road is about 2km (closest point) from the crater while the other roads are further away. Some serious switch-backs in the road to the southeast.

    Regardless, the roads would be an interesting (and very dangerous) place to be during an eruption. Looking at Ubinas Volcano OCHA Situation Report (No.1) issued Apr 26, 2006, the “explosions spewed out incandescent stones and ash in a 4 km radius from the crater.” Sure would be beautiful to watch, especially at night.

  10. Old Geezer

    “…that‚Äôs basically the last place I‚Äôd like to be standing if this guy decides to throw a hissy fit.” Well, in that event, that would be the last place you’d be standing.

  11. I am amazed by photos of volcanoes. It is amazing how they can carve up the ground around them.

  12. Ghede

    Hey, I don’t know if you’ve seen this article, but I thought it might be up your alley (nice bit of anti-vax stuff in there) – that is if you’re in the mood for a steaming cup of rage when you read it.

  13. That’s one big sphincter!

  14. RwFlynn

    Phil, when can we start calling you the Bad Geologist?

  15. Sion

    Speaking on behalf of my fellow volcanology research students, thanks Phil, for both appreciating and plugging what we do.

  16. Joseph G

    For some reason, the clean edges make me think of the mashed-potato sculpture of the Devil’s Tower from “Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind” ūüėÄ Which I suppose isn’t surprising, as I understand it’s a volcano remnant itself.

    @17 Sion: Plugging volcanos sounds both dangerous and futile, but if anyone can do it, Phil can! ūüėČ

  17. PeteC

    “Hephaestenate” ? I am so totally pinching that one… :)


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