Calling All Volcanians

Guest post from Tallis

An Appeal for Advice

Source: wikimedia

I thought I was finished with Chiles-Cerro Negro, I have already written two articles on this volcano before detailing my thoughts, issues, concerns, and scenarios. Chiles-Cerro Negro is a volcano that has been restless for almost 7 years now, it has had large swarms and other signs of a potential future eruption and it borders on Columbia and Ecuador. The most recent and extensive swarm since 2015 has come to an end with the activity and earthquakes gone down to low levels since December.

However in January something changed: while Volcanic-tectonic earthquakes went down, LP earthquakes went up representing a change in the volcano’s behavior. Around 300 of these LP and VLP earthquakes have been happening at a depth from 20 km to 46 km below sea level. This contrasts with a relative decrease of shallow volcanic tectonic earthquakes. If you believe that these countries have poor instruments then the real numbers could be larger then reported.

These amount of LP’s have not happened since the first seismic crisis and took place at deep depth, something about this volcano’s unrest has changed recently. This could be the beginning of a new magma intrusion as stated by the IGEPN’s February report but I don’t know how I feel about that.

It seems possible but inflation hasn’t gotten faster. This could be indicative of some type of intrusive body moving into the magma chamber of the volcano.

The LP earthquakes have also been increasing throughout the entire complex however and there has been not a lot of Volcanic-tectonic earthquakes in this area as well but the IGEPN has not mapped all the LP earthquakes so I can’t say anything definitive. There also seems to be a shallowing trend with these earthquakes.

Once again, a lot of LP’s have seem to be taking place to the northwestern part actual complex with the. This could be a reasonable amount of eruptible magma moving through the magma chamber, Unfortunately, most of the quakes have not been located and when I say most I mean more than half. That means that I can’t say anything for certain. Deeper volcanic activity and Long-period earthquakes aren’t my forte, even more so for silicic systems.

The amount of LP earthquakes has also gone down a good deal but they are still there, the exact number will have to wait for the March report. It is my personal opinion that these LP earthquakes are the result of eruptible volatile magma rising to the roof of the chamber. It is my concern that this volcano is hiding a large magma chamber capable of producing a caldera-forming eruption, No one can say that there is not a large magma chamber here because there hasn’t been good studies on this system. Yet this system is stressing regional faults, has a deep chamber, has a connection to 3 surrounding volcanoes, has a long history, and hasn’t erupted in at least 10,000 years. While this evidence is not concrete it should by no means be ignored.

I have recently found out that the hydro-thermal activity to this volcano is controlled and regulated mostly by regional tectonics and not volcanic activity. As the hydrothermal system is becoming unstable that may not be an indication of volcanic activity directly but tectonic strain from the pressure of the magma chamber.

If my propositions are true which I must admit, they are not only somewhat outlandish but also unlikely, then this does not paint a pretty picture of what might happen with this system. I will contact these geological surveys about my concerns and grievances with this system and their data and I would like to ask for your assistance. I am not a scientist and I have never worked in a geological agency so by myself I would probably fail to address my concerns in a professional way or a completely scientific way. Especially since my admitted deficiency with understanding deep magmatic activity, I would like your help in refining my letter and my model to these agencies. Albert and Carl, I ask you to write your own articles analyzing my model and seeing if it is possible and feasible in this situation or unreasonable and unscientific, I would like to have some actual experts to give me their thoughts on my model so I don’t showcase my ignorance when I contact the IGEPN and SGC. I would also ask the readers of this article to give me their thoughts as well.

The Model

In 2013, an intrusion started to take place at Chiles-Cerro Negro, The intrusion became more voluminous as 2014 came around and started the 2014-2015 seismic crisis. This, in turn, stressed regional tectonics to the point where the hydro-thermal system started to release gas emissions and resulted in the partial rupture of the southern extension of the Romeral fault, which enhanced the inherently compressive setup of the regional geological area.

As the magma intrusion persisted the pathway to the system had been cleared and seismic activity went down as the system had stabilized somewhat during the intrusion. However, all general activity would remain elevated for a few years. A degree of inflation would take place after the seismic crisis however this is not the direct result of the magma intrusion as the deformation during the seismic crisis was related to the tectonic earthquake. The inflation is due to the magma chamber pressurizing as there was little inflation directly related to the magma intrusion during the seismic crisis.

In 2018 the magma chamber had started to reach its pressure limit and this caused another earthquake swarm. This swarm did not affect the hydrothermal activity or existing deformation by a large degree. However, this swarm would showcase the area under this system’s influence including 3 different volcanoes, Chalpatan, Potrerillos, and Horqueta; a caldera and two stratovolcanoes respectively.

This swarm would include over 139,000 earthquakes but it would come to an end as the pressure limit is reached. A few months after the swarm ends another smaller swarm of LP earthquakes would begin.

This swarm is the result of a plume of reactivated magma rising from the bottom of the magma chamber to the top and after the ascension is complete, the amount of LP earthquakes goes down as the volcanic-tectonic earthquakes go up.

Another seismic swarm could begin as more eruptible and volatile magma could reach the surface of the reservoir leading to more stress for the roof of the magma chamber. More signs for this could be more destabilization to the hydrothermal chamber and slower inflation as the limits of the system’s structure is reached. However, whether this leads to an eruption or not depends on the level of stress reached, if there are one or more large tectonic earthquakes, and if the intrusion continues at this level.

One argument that I know of against the idea of a large magma build-up is that there has been no reported large dome indicative of a large unstable magma body. However, the area this hypothetical dome would occupy is littered with regional ‘junk’: calderas, craters, avalanche deposits, other volcanoes, and mountains. The Uturnucu dome was missed for a while for similar reasons, and I don’t think that this magma body at Chiles-Cerro Negro is as large as the one at Uturnucu.

Even if I am wrong about the cause of the LP earthquakes and it is the beginning of another intrusion, that would still lead to a great deal of additional stress to the system which might not be able to handle. I think an additional intrusion would make a future eruption even more likely than my explanation.

This model I think, answers some oddities about this system’s unrest, such as the lack of gas emissions, relatively slow uplift, protracted seismic activity, the stressing of several regional faults, and the slow destabilization of the hydrothermal system. The issue that worries me the most is the fact that the regional faults are being stressed and over a large area as well. The sheer length of this destabilization might have reached almost 7 years now. That is not indicative of modest or small potential with this system.

If the magma chamber were to start to fail, we would see a HUGE earthquake swarm and accelerating rates of inflation as well as steam explosions and smaller eruptions and we haven’t gotten to that point but if the magma chamber has reached its pressure limit and overpressure is taking place then that means the chance of this happening have gone up. Bold claims require strong evidence and I have some solid negative points but ultimately not enough to say that this model is a fact.

I don’t think that this system has reached the point of return, the intrusion could easily end right now and the stress would slowly dissipate afterward then we could laugh at my fear stoking propositions over some virtual beer and soda (I don’t drink alcohol).

Sampling the hydrothermal spring water of Chiles-Cerro Negro. Cheers! (Source: IGEPN)

58 thoughts on “Calling All Volcanians

    • The question is what the long period earthquakes signify. It will be moving fluid, but which fluid? Dettol?

    • That was an interesting read, Tallis. I kind of regret not noticing this post until now. I remember quite distinctly hearing about this situation years ago and being puzzled by the confusing and equivocal description of the geology of the area. Not reading any more since then, I had kind of assumed that the unrest had gone away, but obviously that is not the case. My impression is that if there was an eruption here, it is not even clear where the vent site might be, or it’s relation to existing features in the area. Is anything known about the quarternary geology of the area ? you mentioned one caldera…..any info about its age or products ? You did mention the presence of dacite in the area. Is this related to the caldera, or one or both of the “stratocones” in the area ? I can appreciate how it can be kind of unnerving to be confronted with a poorly known or ill-defined system, especially one with no geological or chronological work. Any update on what has happened with your efforts, or the ongoing unrest over the past four weeks or so ?

  1. An interesting article.

    I’m not a scientist either. But one of the main reasons that I read this site is that it is data driven.

    The data is examined and then hypotheses are raised based on that data.

    The problem with your article is that you seem very concerned to fit the data with your hypothesis. Where you tell us about data that doesn’t fit your data, it’s to tell us why that data can be dismissed, or to spin it to show how the data might be twisted to fit your hypothesis.

    That makes me uncomfortable.

    My suspicion is that the scientists monitoring this volcano don’t need to be told that this a big beast capable of caldera eruptions, which needs to be carefully watched because it’s currently undergoing a period of instability.

    After all, that is the reason that they are monitoring the volcano. And have spent a large chunk of a poor regions cash to do so.

    I’m not dismissing your theory that this volcano is about to crack off a caldera eruption, it could.

    But you do seem to have a real bee in your bonnet about his particular volcano. What might help settle your concerns is to take a look at what’s happening with with other volcanoes. Once you realise that there are any number of big beasts around the world capable of caldera eruptions which are currently showing instability. This volcano doesn’t seem to any more or less dangerous than those others.

    The fact is that sooner or later some volcano somewhere is going to go caldera. My personal feeling (based on no data whatsoever) is that when one does it’ll be a volcano that we don’t expect, much like Pinatubo came out of the blue. I’d also expect that the build up to such an eruption would be so loud that there’d be plenty of time of evacuate the local population.

    • I don’t see where I have twisted data to obtain my hypothesis…I think I might be reaching a bit but I have not made up or said any half truths. I don’t think that they are completey oblivious to this volcanoes potential but i would like to know and pursue my concerns. I don’t want to come off as a self righteous Hero wannabe but a curious person. (I am both) This is my entire goal for writing this article

  2. Whats the temperature and viscosity of Cerro Negro lavas?
    Looks a bit like Nishishimoshima

  3. Hi Tallis

    I’m a very infrequent commenter here and have no specialism in any geological fields but have contributed to scientific papers and I’ve been following VC since BB so am familiar with some general principles.

    I would think you might start (if you haven’t already) by producing some 3-d eg plots using the data that you can get hold of. I appreciate you say that much of the data is not well defined, but at least you could then be fairly confident in the overall pattern and any changes within. Also a 3-d plot will help to visualise the system and you might then spot patterns you hadn’t previously seen.

    Secondly, I think you’ll need to correlate other factors (eg gas levels, inflation etc) with your hypothesis. This usually means graphs, tables etc to show what and how it fits your model.

    You would also need to come up with some plausible predictions which could be tested. This could be tricky, but is the basis of scientific inquiry so at least an attempt, with suitable reservations, should be made or pondered upon.

    Lastly, as Pete Corney points out, the relevant geological surveys are probably very aware of the situation (or at least some within the organisation) so try to engage with the spirit of co-operation or inquiry as a way forward could be possibly through getting some young geology students interested so they can carry it forward if you’re on to something. Scientists are (with good reason) sceptical of ‘feelings’ unless you’re at professor level!

    Best of luck

    • Mick, I know the pros are watching this and usually I trust them but….I wonder how they could have stated as I have seen them state “who could have known there would be a lateral blast at Mt. St Helen’s” when you see the data they had. To me growth speed and huge bulge really pointed to nothing else. sometimes the pro’s can see the obvious but ignore it because it doesn’t fit their model. Just an aside here this pandemic is NOT a black swan as some politicians want to claim, it was in fact very predictable, perhaps not the exact date but definitely not a black swan.

      • On the contrary its been predicted for decades and even the characteristics of the pathogen. The key two being good mechanism for spreading (best is coughs and sneezes) and a long infectivity time without symptoms. I took steps in January once I heard about the details of C19, which is to maximise your survival when you contract it. What really bothers me is that this pussycat of a pathogen which only kills 0.5% of those infected and almost all of those are already very sick has caused such panic. What if it killed 30% and severely damaged another 20%? It would clearly be a case to back to the middle ages in one bound. In the ’50’s we would just have kept on working and buried our dead with barely a blip on our economy, not that we would have had much choice mind. Below for info I copy some data of the UK normal deaths by age and the calculated deaths from covid if 100% of the population caught it. Figs from Uk ons & Imperial Report I am told. Make your own judgement. Cost to the UK economy will in time easily beat £1000B as far as I can see, blighting furure generations. Note in many cases c19 and normal deaths will be the same person.

        C19 deaths LHS
        Normal Deaths RHS
        82 0 to 9 3,631
        231 10 to 19 1,359
        1,335 20 to 29 3,856
        3,611 30 to 39 7,429
        6,515 40 to 49 16,431
        27,492 50 to 59 37,077
        79,463 60 to 69 71,224
        142,978 70 to 79 140,156
        155,943 80+ 215,561

        • This assumes the health service would keep working. In fact the numbers were such that only 1 in 8 people needing hospital care could get it, so you would get enormous extra death rates not just from covid but from all other causes requiring treatment, mass casualties among health workers, teachers wiped out (assuming children pass it on – jury is out), etc. Your numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, we couldn’t cope with a full-blown black death but we managed to stop even the last plague epidemic in the 1890’s. We don’t live in the middle ages anymore.

          • We would have to be more ruthless. If you need intubation care, success rate 50% even picking best patients (and often life changing if recovered), then forget it, the resources are just not there. Supplemental oxygen and oxygen + cpaps do not require very trained staff, volunteers could do it, sports halls would handle hundreds of patients. There would of course have been mass graves done by a 360 but after made into a nice park with a nice list of names which I would personally prefer to scattered ashes or a grave long forgotten.
            I’m not really talking middle ages, more post WW2 mentality.
            Afterwards (and during) we would pretty well carry on as before.
            A 30% death rate would put us back to the middle ages though.

          • That could be read as withdrawing medical care from the over-60’s. It would solve our pension problems but I prefer civilization! Current excess death rate in the UK is now estimated at 30-40 thousand. This is _excess_, not the total (that will be higher). It suggests that the covid death rate is underreported by a factor of 2. I don’t have numbers for the US but would expect it to be similar.

          • In New York City according to and using data up to 25th there were almost 21,000 excess deaths reported since March 11th. That’s about 0.25% of the population of New York City

            Recent antibody screening in NYC suggests maybe a quarter of people have caught it which would seem to put the Infection Fatality Rate somewhere in the region of 1% in NYC. Whether all the excess deaths are directly or indirectly linked to covid doesn’t really matter at the end of the day because you are still dead.

            Experience in a few Italian towns suggests the overall rate might go as high as 2 or 3% where you lose control completely.

            And the Diamond Princess still has about 7% of those who tested positive over 2 months ago still under treatment as of last Japanese update. Almost 2% are now dead.

        • Well, as we speak anyone >70 or with significant medical issues don’t get intubation so selection is already happening but still only 50% success rate. Certainly once it gets into care homes there is carnage. Anyway we seem to be going for eradication, which will be a constant battle until/if a decent vaccine is produced. So significantly reduced medical services are likely to continue for quite a long time. These deaths are, however, ‘invisible’ being in the future.
          PS Yes deaths are under reported as are cases, we have known that for at least two months, never any secret.

          • Technically speaking, you are correct.
            But those kinds of musings are unethical and should not even be considered in a civilised society.
            Here in Germany they would also be unconstitutional and therefore not possible.

          • Your joy in offing people over 60 bothers me, in the extreme. Some of us are human beings we value our people of all ages. There are many over 60 raising grand children, coming back into service to work this epidemic as medical pros, in the Senate and Congress making laws and trying to handle this mess. You sound like you coldly would kill anyone based on age and enjoy it as well. Stats from my city show more younger people with it, more dead women than men not what is being reported in all areas and more death among younger people.

          • Although I agree with the message that a civilized society should take care of everyone regardless of age (or ability to afford health insurance!), I don’t think farmeroz was expressing joy. That criticism is unfair. He was arguing that the cost of the shutdown exceeded the medical benefit. What he argues is the government (and WHO) policy regarding a major flu epidemic: it can’t be controlled and it needs to run its course. But covid spreads more slowly and can be controlled, in which case the policy becomes one that is based on epidemics like ebola. The initial UK response was based on the flu policy. It changed rather late and initially incomplete: you can’t control without extensive testing and in both the UK and the US that is lagging well behind. And part of the policy did not change: in the UK, people in care homes do not get treated.

      • Actually, this is a classic example of a black swan:
        1. It was, indeed, predictable;
        2. It was ignored despite that, because the probability was incorrectly viewed by many policymakers as “low enough it might as well be zero” or “not worth worrying about”;
        3. Its consequences were significant.

      • “who could have known there would be a lateral blast at Mt. St Helen’s” → David A. Johnston, that’s who. He was one of the ones cautioning of it. That’s one of the reasons he was set-up at what was thought to be a safe range in order to operate the monitoring equipment.

        As for “Black Swan” probabilities. When you stack seemingly unconnected events and calculate the likelihood of all of them happening in a chain, you get a really, really low probability. So low that under normal circumstances, they would wrongly be assumed to be zero…

        (People panicking over dwindling supply and making a run on the available stock, thereby generating the shortages they were fearing. → Just one of those unlikely events that you need to factor into that.)

        • He had actually warned that the chosen location was too close to St Helens. As it turned out to be.

    • Unfortunately I can’t find any 3-d plots. It is demoralizing trying to do research and one of the first things you find are your articles about how there isn’t a lot of information.

      • if you can link to the raw earthquake data you want plotted and specify some criteria people here may be able to help

    • Thanks for the link. Tragic. We all have “volcanic emotions”. I find one part of me eager for an eruption and another part of me saying it’s crazy dangerous but part of life.

  4. If this volcano hasn’t erupted in 10,000 years, but has current signs of unrest, those signs of unrest could go on for decades with or without something happening at the end.

    It is interesting though when a long-dormant volcano wakes up.

    • Actually seismic swarms have been taking place at this volcano since 1997, so it has been restless for over 20 years! Inconsistently though.

      These seismograms have been showing more fluid signals lately and there are no available spectrograms to actually discern LP earthquake.

    • Yes indeed, you don’t know whether you will get a Pinatubo….or a Fourpeaked

  5. Great article Tallis…much food fer thought.
    Not knowing about other seismic activity in the area, is it possible that the LP’s are related to deep harmonic tremor? DHT events in the U.S. Pacific northwest have semi-regular episodes/cycles (about every 13 months? ) which may help explain the ebbs and flows of the swarms. I remember reading about the seismic signature(s) for DHT and how they are sometimes confused with long period earthquakes.

  6. BTW, thought I’d mention that today the U.S. FDA has O.K.’d (on and “emergency” basis) Remdisovir for limited use based on data just released by both Gilead (manufacturer) and the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The studies indicated a positive response to treatment. It appears that the drug being anti-viral is most effective prior to the onset of cytokine-induced organ damage including most of the mortality.

    • I welcome any usable treatment. But I am still sceptical about this one. The study was done by the manufacturer, and the only independent test I have heard of came out negative. And since we don’t yet know what percentage of cases progress to the organ-damage one (because of a lack of community testing) how would you decide whether it works? There is no real comparison sample.

      • I’m always skeptical when the manufacturer does the study… no conflict of interest there!

        • Many other institutions, agencies and labs are participating from around the globe….so it’s not just the Gilead data that’s being used. And for those who say that Gilead paid for it all, therefore the results are “automatically” suspect and called into question; Well, if you employ 10 different labs and institutions from around the world, then who else pays for it?
          While there are still “gray areas” of possible conflicts, I think Gilead up to this point has done a decent/good job to insure impartiality/transparency in the test analysis’.

      • As you know, there is a lot of good and bad info out there, so here’s my understanding (subject to change) of the situation:
        The NIAID’s (gov’t agency) study (>1,000 participants from many test sites) was more comprehensive than the Gilead tests, including a blind (placebo) arm in the matrix. Reports suggest Gilead has been able to coordinate various agencies/labs/hospitals for a diverse range of tests around the globe to run in parallel to accelerate the determination of efficacy, as well as identify potential side-issues. Note that there are many other tests in the pipeline, and we should be hearing more on their results in the near future…leading to a formal paper to be released for peer-review (date unknown at present).
        The key take away (so far) from the NIAID study, is that patients receiving Remdisovir recovered (on average) in 11 days as compared to 15 days for those given the placebo (a 31% improvement), with no statistically meaningful rise in after-effects or other complications.
        The new Gilead study had a different focus, which was to test for changes (if any) in efficacy between a 5-day IV treatment period vs. a 10-day IV treatment. This test suggested that a 5-day treatment was at least as effective as the 10-day treatment, with both groups showing accelerated recovery periods….similar to the results in the original Gilead study done by the University of Chicago and the NIAID.
        We’ve seen “Lucy pull the football” in other drug investigations, so caution is DEFINITELY warranted ATTM….but we have another dilemma brewing.
        What the tests and Gilead’s pressers are suggesting, is that Remdisovir, being an RNA-based anti-viral therapy, is designed to address CV-19’s replication rate in it’s early viral stage, but would likely be either marginally or totally ineffective for those in “critical” condition who’ve entered the later-stage cytokine storm/pneumonia stage. At this time, it is my understanding that studies of critical patients currently on mechanical ventilators have not been conducted..but one can anticipate that will be a focus of future tests/studies.
        The real dilemma though, is that patients will need Remdisovir treatment early enough in the disease’s progression to be optimally effective…which means rapid-response testing (<24 hr. turnaround) will be required to confirm an active infection in it's earliest stages.
        Well, here in the U.S., we have no plan (as yet) to implement (and execute) such a testing program….as our exalted Leader has steadfastly refused to expand testing capabilities, nor prepare the infrastructure/supply chain to implement the use of a drug (any drug).
        At present, our "policy" is for people who get symptoms are to remain at home, and only go to the hospital when symptoms progress to a severe stage which is when tests are finally administered (current turnaround for the U.S.'s "standard" test is still many days). Under such conditions, many patients will be already entering the later stages of infection by the time CV-19 is confirmed…which in turn reduces the efficacy of any anti-viral therapy (including Remdisovir).
        So, hypothetically if Remdisovir is indeed released for wider use, here we are nearing May with over a million positive tests and approaching 65,000 deaths yet we (U.S.) has not had the foresight to even remotely prepare for the widespread use of a (any)treatment? What did they think a treatment would be like? Did they think you just go the doctor and get a shot and be done with it? How totally absurd.
        At this point, I'll refrain from further comment on just how sh***ty of a job this group of clowns and cronies in Washington are doing.

          • The report says there is a survival benefit, but the p-value given for that (0.06) would not be considered as significant, and this statement will not survive peer review. The time to recovery is more interesting, but the conclusion is that it help faster recovery for those people who recover, but there is no significant change to your chance of dying. It may be that earlier use of the antiviral (before hospitalization) would give better results, but as you say that requires a change in testing strategy.

          • Time to recovery, not survival, was the primary endpoint. Therefore success or failure of the trial is dictated by time to recovery. This is not unimportant, hospital stays are expensive and put health care workers at risk.

      • The only negative study that I know of came from China. Perhaps you know of another?
        Note that China has since redacted their negative response statement BTW, but has issued no other comment?

        • The above comment is in reply to Albert’s question above.

    • The results were published in the Lancet this week, with a p-value of 0.001 and an independent data committee. That’s pretty good.

      • My bad, the Lancet paper is the Chinese phase 2 study, with fewer patients than the NIAID phase 3 study. There can be an issue of statistical powering, and also with several drugs there are differences in response between Europeans and Asians (due to variability in liver enzymes..

        Lancet paper:

        Trial design for NIAID trial. Trial results are valid for conditions similar to those in the clinical trial (e.g. population, medical setting).

        • ok, so the chinese study was in severely ill patients and the US/European one in milder cases (but still requiring hospitalization). Note that different test sites will have different criteria for hospitalization. The second study finds a faster recovery (noting that the test has not ended yet). The first study cannot judge this because their statistics are not accurate enough. The first study finds ‘no clinical benefit’, i.e. similar fractions die. The second study cannot judge that because their statistics are not accurate enough (my interpretation: the press release says something different). So fair agreement in the tests. My conclusion: helpful for moderate cases but will not change the fatality rate. It may be different if given before hospitalization is needed, of course.

          • Yes, treatment in the earliest stages will be required for optimal efficacy (but not necessarily the most cost-effective).
            If we do acknowledge the 31% lower recovery time as “reasonable”, then that strongly implies the virus replication rate was indeed reduced…which “logically” would imply that post-viral stages of the disease (mortality rate) should be affected as well (it was, but statistically insignificant). IMHO, it may very well be that the tests/studies are (by design) using many patients that have already started transitioning into the secondary infection stage, after which the disease will follow its natural course (death or survival) regardless of treatment. So, until Remdisovir treatments start getting used upon the earliest onset of symptoms, we’ll really have no way of knowing (with confidence) if Remdisovir when used under “ideal” (and $$$$costly) conditions can significantly lower mortalities, or maybe it’ll just wind up being used to lower the duration of the viral stage in some of the sicker patients?
            Time and further testing will tell (hopefully).

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