A potential issue

Guest post from Tallis

Lately, I have been researching 2 volcanoes and have found something disturbing to myself for a variety of reasons. I’m sure you have heard of these volcanoes but maybe, since there is a lack of attention on these volcanoes, that you have missed out on some valuable information. I am not a scientist and I am about to talk about high-risk volcanoes that are experiencing unrest as we speak. Please know that I am not trying to sound alarmist and I beg of you to challenge my words, propositions, and points. I hope through some sporting debates with my worthy rivals and superiors, we can establish more facts and possibilities.

Central American volcanoes are overlooked as we have already discussed and that is unfortunate considering that one scary volcano lives right there, in fact, there are two, or at least there are two volcanic peaks in close proximity. Cerro Negro De Maseyquer with its neighbour Chiles are on the border between Colombia and Ecuador. (Note: not to be confused with Cerro Negro in Nicaragua.) It is no stranger to the news: just several years ago it made headlines for its seismic crisis but the seismic activity went down and so did its attention. I have been looking at this volcano for a couple of years now and it never did catch my interest until recently.

Cerro Negro is a stratovolcano with a 1.8 km crater opening to the west. Andesitic and dacitic lava flows are of possible Holocene age and solfataras found on the shore of a small crater lake show recent volcanic activity. Chiles lies only 3 km to the SE, and is A higher, glacier-covered stratovolcano which last erupted about 160,000 years ago. It has hot springs and an active hydrothermal system at its eastern flank. The earthquake swarm started in July 2013, in relatively shallow depths from 1 to 17 km reaching magnitudes up to 4.5

This volcano in the past year has had more than 147,000 earthquakes, starting in September 2018 and still reported in progress as of 1 August 2019. A magmatic component was present in the earthqukes. This interested me a little bit and with a quick search on Google, I noticed that there has been no significant gas emission or deformation so I quickly moved on until I realized something. There SHOULD BE some significant deformation and gas emissions. The seismic crisis was caused by a magma intrusion and some of the more recent earthquakes are caused by the changes in the magma chamber’s pressure but I don’t know how many exactly.

Chiles (image from wikipedia)

Either the intrusion or the pressure should be creating significant deformation right now but there is still none. The weirder thing is, that you have to go back to the seismic crisis to get all of the signs of unrest before 2 out of 3 stopped. What happened? One theory is that the magnitude 5.6 earthquake inhibited the pathways of magmatic fluid into the system during the seismic crisis, the other theory is that the tectonic setup, as well as the fact that the volcanoes haven’t erupted in over 10,000 years, could also mean there too much compressive force for there to be significant uplift and the deformation during the unrest was due to the earthquake.

That’s it. That is pretty much all of the data I could find for the unrest. No data on the status of the magma chamber, no more data on the scale of the intrusion, and the issue of what exactly is going on is still a mystery. There are so many different future scenarios that it is ridiculous. Once my frustration peaked I had a Gordon Ramsay moment, I yelled “Where are my spectrograms?! Where’s my daily earthquake count?! Where’s my GPS monitoring devices?! Why isn’t there a daily record of volcanic strain!?” None of this data is public or in existence.

I am going to give my idea of what I think is happening, I believe the major earthquake during the seismic crisis inhibited deformation and gas emissions. It enhanced the compressive nature of the geological setup but didn’t limit the magmatic intrusion. This is because even after the earthquake the swarm continued at high levels for months and the recent swarm is the result of the magma chamber pressurizing.

The current swarm is also on a downward trend but this might not be a good thing, it could mean that the magma chamber is reaching its pressure limit. What proof do I have? None. That makes me all the more worried but there is a silver lining, before a hypothetical eruption, there would large earthquakes and a LOT of uplift before an eruption.

The scariest part of this for me is that the magma is likely to be sulfur-rich and the region has had large eruptions where 2% of the erupted mass was sulfur dioxide and if even half of that percentage were to happen with a VEI 5 or VEI 6 it would suck.

At least this volcano has easy to access information. The state of the Corbetti caldera in Ethiopia is even harder to understand. The best information I could find is the fact the volcano seems to be receiving an average of 10^7 cubic meters of magma a year as well as experiencing deformation and microseismicity. That is it. These volcanoes could threaten over 100,000 people with smaller eruptions. These volcanoes are capable of producing VEI 7 eruptions and while I am not saying that is what is going to happen in the future but we should have enough information as curious minds to safely write that off as an issue.

39 thoughts on “A potential issue

      • I think he’s asking why the blue is in front – the red is the interesting one for volcanoes right ? so why mask it with less interesting blue ? what is the blue useful for ?

        • Rain, wind, rock fracturing, smaller tendrils of magma flowing, glacial floods starting, 4x4s operating where they aren’t supposed to be etc.

          • Four scenarios:
            1) Individual lines, blue or any other color: earthquakes
            2) The entire blue line rises but not abruptly: usually windstorm or tides (tides are usually a less sharp increase, more like the wave up and down in the graph)
            3) The entire blue line rises abruptly, while the green and red do not rise abruptly: usually a glacial flood or increased geothermal activity
            4) The 3 lines (blue, green, red) rise abruptly: magmatic movements (if they rise a lot, then it’s an eruption, otherwise it’s a minor intrusion)

            In scenario 3 and 4, the abrupt increase needs to be observed across several stations, otherwise it’s most likely noise caused by natural and human activity. So a sharp increase in the lines in one station alone does not mean an eruption or a glacial flood. A sharp increase in several stations means something.

  1. Thanks for the post Tallis.

    I remember when this kicked into overdrive back in 2013, it was thought to be a volcano waking up from somewhat of an extinct period.

    Here are some things to ponder re: Cerro Negro / Chiles:

    – It has had an ongoing swarm and intrusion event now since 2013. This has waxed and waned, and is probably less vigorous than when it started, but the persistence is rather impressive, and speaks to the likely size of the intrusion.

    – The reduced volume of earthquakes compared to when this originally started to re-awaken may not be due to a reduced magmatic input. The faults and rock around the volcano is likely far less brittle than it was due to the re-heating of the magma chamber and surrounding rock.

    – This volcano hasn’t had enormous caldera eruptions from the little we know about it, but it did have a significant slope collapse at one point. With that said, there ARE other nearby volcanoes that have had decent sized caldera events, and there are a lot of highly viscous volcanoes in the area (dacite is common).

    – Lack of inflation could mean a lot of things. We also need to better understand the time period in which we haven’t seen new inflation. Are we talking no inflation over the last 3 years? Or have we seen zero inflation within the last few months?

    – Magma can create earthquakes from cooling, which would actually be more deflationary than inflationary. Similarly, I believe magma mixing within the magma chamber and simply moving around could cause earthquakes even if there isn’t much new magma coming into the system. Also, the magnitude of the quakes matter. Keep in mind, brittle rock can fracture and release energy which would be a m1.0 quake, but that isn’t actually all that much energy. Not enough to cause significant inflation. If magma input has slowed to a very small pace, it would make sense to still see quakes, but not much renewed inflation.

    – Also, you could be correct in the idea that the magma is now just compressing instead of pushing up the rock above it. Compression would leave harmonic tremor-like signatures in the drum plot from what I know (tornillos)

    – An eruption from this volcano would trigger significant quakes beforehand, but there may not be a ton of warning time. I say this because closed volcanic systems like this that re-awaken have a habit of going from zero to sixty very fast. This is a product of highly viscous magma (especially if the new magma rejuvenates old crystal mush in the magma chamber to be eruptible again) as well as the well-sealed “lid” above.

    – The one good thing is that this is actually pretty remote. So even if there were a large eruption, the most at-risk people would be the native tribespeople who occupy the land surrounding the volcano.

    • There has been been harmonic tremors beneath the system, The more recent quakes are of much lower energy then during the swarm so it could be due to magma mixing. But there is no subsidence that i know of. .
      I don’t know if there are tornillos because there are only one or two seismometers you look at on IGEN. The frequency of long period to very long period earthquakes over the past year makes me think that the magma chamber is more molten now then before.
      The swarm now could also be caused by the hydrothermal system, we might be seeing the build for phreatic activity.

    • It also just north of the PHAN GPS which has recently reversed its movement to the north and began to move south. Mauna Loa is doing strange thing. This quake looks purely tectonic.

      • Tectonic, isn’t that entire area volcanic, hotspot driven? Although, I don’t know the area that we’ll, so I wouldn’t be surprised .

        • The earthquakes northwest of Mauna Loa have their source of strain in the inflating summit of Mauna Loa so I would consider them volcanic related (volcano-tectonic).

          But there are tectonic earthquakes in the area, which are due to flexure of the oceanic plate around and under the massive volcanic edifices, these flexural earthquakes are very frequent in the northern part of the island and are very deep (in the mantle usually).

    • If you’re talking about the volcano at the 1:04 mark – that’s clearly a fake, likely a special effects set for a disaster movie involving a volcanic eruption.

    • Herdubreid takes over at the moment. The IMO automatic system registered some deep quakes too now. Curious about the checked version…

      • The distance between Holuhraun and the Askja swarm is almost exactly the same as that between the Askja and the Herdubreid swarm.

        • The past weeks Askja swarm was at the spot earthquake activity took place when the Bardarbunga dyke in 2014 very short time seemed to reach out to Askja (just before it surfaced and formed the Holuhraun lavafield).

          The propagating dyke in 2014 triggered earthquakes as it went by the volcanoes Kistufell and Kverkfjoll as well, so it could be the propagating dyke’s stressfield triggering quakes just east of Askja. In that case the Bardarbunga dyke was bumping on Askja. It just couldn’t go further north and had to surface where it did. 😊😁

          Last days earthquakes in the Herdubreid area near Eggert are the most northwest recorded since the region became highly active after the Uptyppingar intrusion in 2007-2008. The Askja swarm and the past days earthquake activity are within the Askja fissure swarm. It probably doesn’t mean we are nearing an new phase, but just is the act of slip fault activity.

          But Albert, you are pointing to the distances H Aswarm Hswarm. Is there a reason… ? 🤔

          • No reason, just a notable coincidence. I did wonder about stress transfer as both swarms fall on the extension of the Holuhraun rift. As you say, that one could not progress further because the land was rising again: it was hitting the gravitational hump which pushed back. I guess that the Askja swarm is due to changed in this volcano itself. Whether there is any connection to the new swarm, probably not. Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence. It is still fun.

          • I think there is no coincidence.

            I remember when I lived in Iceland to be amazed at the alignment of the Veidivotn fissure into Torfajokull, and obviously there is a connection to it.

            At the same time, Hengill seems to continue into Skjaldbreidur shield volcano and into Langjokull.

            And Grimsvotn continues into Thordarhyma and then into the Laki fissure.

            And Bardarbunga continues into Hamarinn volcano and then into Veidivotn.

            Most fissure swarms seem more like a string of central volcanoes actually, with minor volcanoes in between. It could be that Askja is just an extension of one Vatnajojull fissure swarms that evolved into a central volcano of its own, much akin to Hamarinn.

            But I think near Herdubreid there is also a minor transform region, running southeast to northwest and this is why there is always much seismic activity in the region. However some quakes are deep, down to 22km!

    • Also see Rafael’s comment above

      The plot suggests that there was an interruption of the inflation for 6 months or so but it has resumed. The amount of inflation is not huge but it is very regular. This looks like building up to some interesting activity. Some time this century.

    • Looks to me there is an ongoing intrusion to the SE in El Ángel park. The volcanoes Cerro Negro and Chilles themselves have stabilized, with some movement to the north away from the intrusion.

  2. I think it depends:
    If there is connection between the area of ongoing intrusion and Chilles, then its likely to follow the path of least resistance. Currently there is a gap of 1km or so between the activity, and about 10km centre to centre. The profiles almost look connected but the plan view shows the gap. There is also very little shallow activity at El Ángel, so for now I would say no for a new volcano.
    The intrusion is also applying pressure to its neighbours, this would explain the movements north and west. This could trigger something without needing fresh material to arrive.
    We also see in the hydrothermal data an long term uptrend in temps, down in Ph, and upwards in conductivity, all of which are worrisome.

    • The deeper seismic activity could be from large deep chamber I think both stratovolcanoes share a common deep chamber. The increasing melt in the chambers might be the cause for the increase in heat with the hydrothermal chambers.

  3. I think this low energy extensive swarm is the result of not only the pressurization of the magma chamber but the separation of the useless mush from the eruptible magma.

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