Chile-Cerro Negro: Is this the one?

There are so many volcanoes right now that have the size and history to produce a massive eruption but only one volcano has me worried for the imminent future and you’ve heard it’s name before, Chiles-Cerro Negro. As of late Chile-Cerro Negro has been having a massive swarm with accelerating deformation which has caught some attention from our community and as the volcanoes representative it is my duty to give you an update on the volcano’s current situation. I have already wrote too many articles of subpar quality concerning this volcano and I don’t really want you to go back and read those. But I also don’t want to retrace old ground and this article will be all you need to understand this volcano’s current situation, and what is so concerning about this volcano.

Located on the border of Columbia and Ecuador, this system consists of the 2 stratovolcanoes and 1 caldera at the minimum and it has been dormant for over 12,000 years. Something changed in 2013 when an intrusion began, starting a massive swarm and for almost 10 years this volcano has been under constant changes which leads me to believe that this volcano has some scary potential. It may seem a bit disingenuous, after all this volcano at a glance seems to be your typical stratovolcano couplet but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

There are 2 calderas and several other volcanic features near the volcano that are all uplifting or under seismic stress. That is not indicative of modest potential. 20 km wide area was under uplift surrounded by a ring of subsidence, something that occurs at caldera volcanoes but not really at stratovolcanoes. On top of that, regional faults have been under stress for over 8 years. This never sounded like your typical volcanic unrest but now? Now it’s clear as day that something is very wrong with our black hill.

The red flags began in 2018 when the second swarm began. Despite being reasonably large, there was no official confirmed cause but it had been postulated that this was the result of magma chamber pressurizing. 200,000+ quakes don’t just happen for no reason and I was confused to see an underwhelming response by the geological agencies. More than 4 volcanoes under unrest at once? Large inflation? Stressing regional faults? Dormant for years? This all sounds pretty interesting!

But after 2020, the activity at Chiles-Cerro Negro fell of a cliff, deformation stabilized, quakes became scarce. It got to a point that I started to wonder if the volcano was about to back to dormancy but I noticed while Chiles-Cerro Negro activity was going down, Cumbal’s was going up. Now I don’t believe Cumbal is part of the same magmatic system but these two volcanoes share the same tectonic system and the hydrothermal activity at Cumbal is influenced by the tectonic stress at Chiles-Cerro Negro. A seismic uptick at Cumbal gave me suspicion that everything hadn’t returned to normal and I was right.

Starting in April, LP earthquakes started to take place at our Black hill with a SHARP rise in deformation. Let me just say that if the instruments are working properly then this is the most incredible deformation I have ever seen on an Inclinometer. Since the swarm began there has been a shift of over a million microradians at two instruments and uplift has rose to over 10 cm/year at one station with faster uplift likely further south.

This isn’t it though, despite the scary numbers the real fear-stoker is where the LP earthquakes are taking place; in April these were taking place 30 km below the surface but now they’re taking place 1-2 km below the surface with more LP earthquakes than any other of the past swarms. The current unrest is most likely being driven by a large volume of buoyant magma, and to make matters worse, the hydrothermal system is being disrupted by this magma and there is still no surface degassing of this shallow magma which means the system is plugged.

First swarm- Magma intrusion

Second swarm- chamber pressurization

Third swarm-ascending magma

I still don’t think we’ve reached the point of no return but only a fool wouldn’t watch this volcano like a hawk. I can’t speak to how exactly big this volcano is, or if it’s going to erupt but if it does erupt, it’s going to be big. I have never seen such a coalition of so many insane numbers in one volcano and nothing points to this volcano being small or modest in size

Is this the VEI 6+ caldera-forming volcano we’ve been anticipating? We’ll see.



285 thoughts on “Chile-Cerro Negro: Is this the one?

  1. Alright, I mapped the area of the new flows!:

    It looks like since the 3D model was done, that there has been 7-10 meters of buildup in the hollow and about half of Meradalir has been resurfaced. My estimate is roughly 5 million m^3 has been added since the 3D model 6 days ago. A little less than half in the hollow and a little over half in Meradalir. That works out to a flow rate of roughly 10 m^3/s over the past 6 days. I am pretty sure that there is not near enough buildup out there for the rate of 17.7m^3/s for the update on the 4th to have been maintained. So it is probably roughly down to the longterm average for the previous eruption.

    • Hi, Reykvolc, where did you find that excellent Iceland terrain map? Could you please post a link? Thank you.

    • Thanks for the estimates. Though 7-10 meters added doesn’t make sense considering 6 days have gone by and how things look compared to 3 days before when we could see things still, even despite much more lava flowing into Meradalir. I would put it at 15-20 meters of additional thickness in the hollow. 3 days went by without seeing what was going on as well. My estimate is that the rate is between 15-25 cubic m/s looking at the fountaining, the lava lake, and the flow into meradalir. But I’m no expert, just thoughts put into this. We’ll see the results soon considering better weather is here and new measurements will come out soon.

    • The way to the road is a long one. Once out of the valley there is a fairly flat area where the lava will slowly creep southwards.

    • Looks to me lava is breaking out of the pool in northern direction? Can’t see any flowing into Meradalir valley at this moment.

    • If this was a flank eruption of Grimsvötn woud it be bigger ?
      But Grims flank eruptions are Very rare and the two that been ( seen as flows ) have all been very large. I doubt flank eruptions at either Grimsvötn and Bardarbunga are smaller than a few 100 million cubic meters at minimum. Holuhraun was medium small for a Bardarbunga flank eruption I guess

      • The eruptions that are further away from Grimsvotn or Bardarbunga along their fissure swarms tend to be of bigger scale I have noticed. The eruptions of 1862-1864 near Bardarbunga that created Trollahraun were relatively tame, officially the flows have a volume of 0.5 km3 but there were two eruptions, with presumably a gap inbetween that would be over 3 months, and most of the eruption was from one vent along a fissure instead of a clear curtain of fire. That eruption was probably fed more by the general storage that exists among the central volcanoes, and not directly from Bardarbunga itself as in the magma chamber. Holuhraun originated in this area too but was also hydraulically connected to the actual magma chamber and a lot lower elevation ( ~720 meters elevation compared to 850-920 for Trollahraun), so caused a caldera collapse. Veidivotn in 1477 seems to have had its main eruptions at an elevation of about 600 meters elevation. Presuambly it was a much more voluminous intrusion though, probably at least twice the size of Holuhraun, it probably made a bigger caldera. The caldera probably first formed with Thjorsahraun, and has grown a bit with every distal eruption since I presume. I would consider Holuhraun to be a distal eruption like happened in 1477, perhaps on the lower end of the scale but not all of the Veidivotn eruptions were as big as 1477, and most were a lot closer to Holuhraun than they were to Thjorsahraun.

        Grimsvotn, it seems to go big or go home. Only 3 fissure swarm eruptions in the Holocene, but all of them were huge, at least 9 km3. Laki was the biggest, I dont know how important that might be though. But clearly the principal axis of rifting in this aprt of Iceland is southwest of Bardarbunga and going towards Torfajokull and Hekla, Katla and Grimsvotn are mostly not rifting volcanoes in behavior (Katla might not be one at all really, only for Eldgja which was a massive wildcard with no close comparison) .
        I guess if Grimsvotn did more proximal flank eruptions though it would be entirely subglacial, where Bardarbunga is reasonably likely to erupt outside the ice, so this might skew the data a bit.

    • It does not seem as vigorous today. But that is hard to judge from remote images

      • Seems very vigorous right now in the south-facing RUV-cam. It is paning from “far” away right now, but there is a car down there that gives a clue to heights and size. Also concider the shield has grown. Compare the left “tip” of the rift (going uphill) from the first day of the eruption. Well it looked like this on the first day….;

        Beautiful to watch now and the car is leaving. 🙂

      • A quick comparison with last night shows that the fountains are now half the height. The lava is mainly flowing north but any expansion of the field is out of view

        • Last eruption when the first Bob vent was 1-2 weeks old it got less active for a day or two and the next day after was when the second fissure opened. It was last week mentioned that the ongoing eruption did not relieve pressure despite relatively high eruption rate, so this next few days could be interesting.

          Or it could be that the lava lake is properly drowning the fountains now. The channel has already tubed over, so possibly this vent could become an actual lava shield. If a tube fed flow forms the chance of this making it to the ocean is very high.

          • I was just thinking that the current condition reminds me of the “perched lake” phase of the prior eruption, during the twin-vent/one cone Bob days. One major difference is that this time the vents are within the lake, not above it.

          • @llavalamp 11/08/2022 at 13:20

            Thanks for sharing this link.

  2. Ioto, widely considered to be the most dangerous volcano in the world on this blog is uplifting at rate of meter per year right now but no one cares. Lol

    • I’m not aware of heightened activity? If it’s getting close to a Krakatau-XXL, we really should care.

        • I put a similar comment on the prior page, but I was wondering how to reconcile the extreme uplift Ioto has undergone in historic times with the knowledge of deformation / uplift at other volcanic systems that simply aren’t as extreme, even immediately prior to an eruption.

          Why is Ioto so unique in this regard? Doesn’t this level of extreme uplift imply extreme, rapid accumulation of a large quantity of magma, and thus, represent considerable danger?

          I don’t know, I’m asking the question. There may be particulars of this system that aren’t obvious as to why it can “contain” such dramatic uplift while not being an immediate eruption risk.

          It’s a fascinating one for me, and the recent magmatic eruption (believe all other historical eruptions are entirely phreatic?) might indicate the start of a larger process, no? Of course it remains to be seen where it goes from here; perhaps it just continues to grow but does so silently for quite a while yet.

          • I wouldn’t say it is completely unique, there is evidence for massive uplift at other calderas. What has my attention is that the volcano could be having it’s first magmatic eruptions in 1,000 years just as the uplift skyrockets. While this could be a coincidence, a substantial eruption is a possibility

          • Massive uplift observed through stratigraphy and geological processes from past events, not observed in real time the way we are with Ioto, correct?

            I guess underscores how young volcanology is as a modern scientific discipline and how much we still don’t know.

          • There are a few other calderas undergoing very rapid uplift.

            Laguna del Maule is inflating at 30 cm per year right now, and over a larger area than Ioto.

            Curtis Island which has a massive caldera of 20 x 25 km, much greater than Ioto, is reported to have inflated 7 meters between 1929 and 1964. In recent years Curtis Island has been the source of M 6 CLVD earthquakes generated by piston uplift of the caldera floor.

            Yasur, an Ioto-sized caldera, inflated more than 20 meters in the 20th century or so.

            There are probably many other calderas which have undergone large-scale resurgence and are not well constrained. Some calderas of the world have recurrent CLVD earthquakes, like Kita Ioto (the volcano to the north of Ioto), Sumisujima, one unnamed submarine caldera next to Tongatapu, and Zavodovski. Those volcanoes are probably inflating on a massive scale but no one has properly documented this inflation.

            And of course basaltic calderas can also have enormous inflation rates that match silicic calderas, like Kilauea (45 cm/year following the 2018 eruption), Sierra Negra (6-7 meters of uplift between its 2005 and 2018 eruptions), and possibly Bardarbunga with its recurrent CLVDs.

          • Yasur inflates faster than Ioto. For the others, they go slower. Ioto has been going up for a very long time. There will be more cases like it, I am sure. A while ago a large survey found inflation at 6 Indonesian volcanoes over a decade. 3 subsequently erupted. On the other hand, Naples and Yellowstone happily go up and down by meters without problems, just from water movement. But sea mounts are much less well understood

          • Thank you, as always Hector; that’s very informative.

            In truth I forgot about Laguna Del Maule as well.

    • Yes, I noticed that. We should treat this claim with caution. The average is about 20 cm per year but it has been higher on occasion in some localized areas at some times. Not across the entire island, as far as I am aware

  3. Luis:
    >RÚV has spoken to a different scientist who is saying similar thing: he wouldn’t comment on exact time for lava to reach road, but would say that the breakout from #meradalir would occur in the next 24 hours

    Yes, could happen very quickly, or a few days later. Probably too late now, but it would have made sense to bring a bulldozer put a small dam into that gap of a few meters height – that would delay the overflow by days, there is a lot of area in Meradalir to fill towards the south.

    If the new eruption stays inside the lava lake and does not switch to a pulsating behaviour with days long pauses, then I think this one might be able to advance much faster, as it could basically follow the slope in a tube-like fashion. The first eruption could not do this as it was fluctuating too much. Would b weird if this one destroys the road even though it is technically in a much “safer” location…

    If they bulldozer again they could slow it down a lot due to the large flat areas available to fill. But except for the Meradalir (well, the Mera-no-longer-“dal”-ir) outlet (and the second outlet to the south a bit higher up) those plains require much longer dams to be built.

    It is interesting how little the old lava field in Meradalir has contracted in the intervening time. Is it known what the current temperature profiles inside the various (former, for the shallow ones) old lava lake areas around the volcano are? Is it liquid after three meters or after 20?

  4. Interesting regarding Taal’s recent increased sulphur emissions:

    “ Several residents in Agoncillo, Batangas have experienced sore throat, chest pain, and cough after an increase in volcanic sulfur dioxide gas emissions from Taal Volcano last week.

    According to a Balitanghali report on Thursday, residents reported the symptoms after inhaling smoke from the volcano. They also said that the emissions caused some tree leaves to turn yellow.

    According to the Taal Volcano Observatory, the high sulfur dioxide content in the plume may have caused what the residents experienced.”

    That’s rather unpleasant.

    • I can’t help but think of the big white plume that was seen in the years between the 1749 and 1754 eruptions. With the similarities between 2020 and 1749, big lateral dike intrusions, I have to wonder if a 1754 is coming, which was the biggest historical eruption of Taal.

      • Was it you, Hector, that in the comments from articles a while ago were discussing the possibility that Taal was forming a ring dike, and how that could lead to larger activity in the near future? I’m pretty sure I remember a series of interesting posts about this.

        • Yes, I wrote this article a while ago:

          There is not much that I would add to it, given that the situation is still much the same and that my mind has not changed about it either. The dynamics of ring dikes are probably complicated and there is not much known yet, in fact most volcanologists still fail to realize the important of this intrusion type, which is largely unknown for those that do not study ancient igneous intrusions from eroded volcanoes.

          So I don’t know how it will play out eventually. However, the resemblances between the present situation and the 1749-1754 series of events are unmistakable. If they will both end the same way, and how that will happen, it remains to be seen.

          By the way, later today a new article I’ve written will come out, which happens to talk about ring dikes too.

  5. One more try. If this doesn’t work I’ll deliberately misspell the email so it lands in the moderation queue and a site admin sees it, and complain about posts being eaten. :/

    Why is the RUV camera zoomed way out now? We don’t have a good close-up front-side view of the vent now because of that!

    • It doesn’t have the power to do so yet, see message on screen from the original broadcast. The restreamers have a tendency to crop away certain info to make it look like their own feed.
      Once power is restored they will probably zoom in as usual. Just a waiting game….

      • Highest fountains getting near 150m now. This thing is huge!

    • If you mean the Langholl camera, it is looking at the expansion of the flow field in the narrow valley on the left. That valley eventually leads to the plain to the north. I am actually quite happy to see this covered. RUV is doing a good job in a remote area

  6. Another timelapse (with jumps in time) from 10/11 August 2 MBL.IS webcameras

    I tried making a timelapse from 2 RUV cameras but the result was quite awful. The Lanhóll camera, dis show some nice outbreaks though.

    • I don’t violate the rules, so obviously someone is mistaken.

      How do we get RUV to restore to us a view of the eruption?

      • Please, no more complaints about cameras. VC is not the forum for that. We are very happy with the effort various Icelandic organisations make to provide these cameras, located in places that are hard to reach and difficult to service. We do not pay for them – they are a free service. You may consider this a warning

    • It used to be a solid 15-20 km wide area but there has been no updates on area of deformation since March when the changes first started so I don’t know at the current moment
      Another swarm of LPs are taking place at the volcano now which means that magma is on the move. Once again, I don’t where LPs are happening and I don’t know what’s stopping the IGEPN from releasing the good stuff.

        • Can admin delete this comment? it just clicked, and I need to go to bed.

    • I was surprised that there are still three vents working still-live drones seem to be a must tool for volcanic studies on live sites

  7. Visir camera

    Eastern-most spatter source seems to have stopped, unless it’s just out of shot. And it looks as if there’s a slightly higher base level where the fountains are; is a solid base for a front wall developing?

    Jesper it looks as if your old wish for a lava jacuzzi is coming true!

  8. I’ve learned from reading this site that accurately judging the depth of quakes with a magnitude less than 2 is quite difficult so the following observation may be insignficant, but, over the past 24 hours there were ~20 small shallow quakes located about half way between the present eruption and Keilir. May mean something, or it may not.

    • The next eruption at Mauna Loa could be huge. Activity there has since declined a lot but usually periods of high activity like that which happened at ML from 1840-1950 would end in a caldera formation and a huge eruption, but while 1950 was big it did not create a caldera.
      Presumably the shallow system still exists, so a collapse is still possible. And given inflation has been nearly continuous since the early 2000s and now seems to be taking place without any complimentary earthquakes like happens at Kilauea… As I recall, inflation before the eruption in 1984 only began 10 years earlier, just before the 1975 eruption, so it has been much more active now than it was 1950-1975 despite this being the longest interval with no eruption. If it isnt erupting but still being supplied with magma that is usually something that indicates building towards a much bigger eruption.

      Just putting it out here that Mauna Loa has erupted more flows over 3 km3 in volume in the past 2000 years than Bardarbunga and Grimsvotn combined, going on 5 in that time most recently in about 1710. It also has more than twice the gravity potential of Nyiragongo.
      There is a story of the last such eruption, at Hapaimanu, which today Ocean View is built on. It began with Pele slamming the ground with her stick in rage after being rejected by the local chiefs, presumably this describes a big earthquake. Very soon after lava flooded out over the land at high speed flooding over a huge area before anyone could escape, burying villages and their inhabitants, and taking the two chiefs to the sea where they became the Na Pu’u a Pele, which are two large littoral cones near south point. It is the only traditional story of an eruption from Mauna Loa.

  9. What am I doing wrong? I just can’t see the live stream on Visir.

    • Does look like the flow rate has gone down a bit, it is all flowing out through that narrow gap and still fairly slow. I assume some of the flow is in tubes though. It does look pretty similar to what last years vents looked like not too long before the lava geyser stage began.

      • Viewing it hard to figure out the height of the cone ,esp in a featureless landscape.

    • Thank you, Jesper. My link still had the old broken picture!

    • Jesper thank you so much for that link. I have been so busy caring for an 18 month old child while my daughter gives birth to her 2nd child that i have been unable to follow this eruption for the last 4 days. This new close up webcam is brilliant! So very many thanks!

  10. Interesting, the small vent on the left is still active. Didn’t someone say that it stopped?

    I‘m really curious if the main vent will go directly into the fountaining stage or if it will close and a new vent will be opened further north.

    • That was me. But I saw the screen with the “back of the volcano”. The specification right and left makes there no sense, pity.

  11. How is the lava output in m³/s of an erupting volcano measured?

    • Usually, the dimension of the lava field and it’s extension is measured with aircraft. And then the output can be compared between two measurements and gives an estimate of the eruption rate.

  12. The south end of the cone has started to slump, you can see a big crack on it 10:20, started slumping before then but its pretty clear in the sunshine.

  13. The volcano apparently stopped for about an hour earlier today, and still looks pretty weak compared to before. There is also some more quakes further north along the dike too, between the eruption and Keilir. It looks like there was a failed second vent opening, or at least an attempt. Given how constant the flow from the mantle seems to be into Fagradalsfall since last year it seems likely more vents are going to open soon if the existing one doesnt pick up again.

    Cant help but wonder if this eruption will one day become something huge. I dont mean the eruption happening right now, but at the peak of the rifting event. Krafla had some huge eruptions in the 1980s, not in volume but the intensity is enormous, 8 km curtains of fire, but the first eruptions were tiny. It was only when the rift filled up that eruptions became bigger starting in 1980, but when that did happen things got pretty serious. I cant help but think maybe the full potential is not being realised today. The fact the current eruption began an order of magnitude higher than last year and has still settled at nearly double the rate, might be telling. Eruptions in 10 years might well be much more powerful than now, tall fountains and long lava flows, maybe not a curtain of fire lava flood like at Krafla as there isnt a magma chamber, but something capable of reaching the north coast is not unlikely.

    • I saw the articles about this on MBL and RUV, and you can see a short-lived drop in the harmonic tremor around 5:30-6:30 UTC, but scrolling back through the webcams shows that at no point did the eruption actually stop. The fountaining did appear to become somewhat less vigorous for a bit, but it was a fairly subtle change.

    • I wonder about the potential as well. The eruption started at nearly double the effusion rate that the last one ever averaged. The limitations will be there on the long term average as the mantle is supplying it with high single digit or low double digit cubic m per second. The pauses in activity is what we need to look out for. As we know with the last one, when the activity paused for 15-20 minutes there’d be a huge lava flood racing down the already covered flows.

  14. The C-C-N inflation & small quakes seem to have fallen off the news.

    Upside, it has not ‘gone large’ overnight and dumped on the region.
    Down-side, seems to be ‘holding its breath’…

    So, ‘just’ some sill/dike intrusion that stopped short of breaking the surface ?

    Or ‘calm before storm’ ??

    ( Speaking of which, UK’s ghastly heat-wave seems to be breaking ‘From the West’, with a long line of thunder-cells developing. But *no* precipitation or lightning as yet… )

    • I honestly don’t know, but magma is still moving and the swarm looks like it’s about to revamp once again. I can see the tremor on the seismographs so we’ll see where this goes. Whatever plug the volcano has it’s strong as hell considering how shallow the magma has gotten without any large degassing.

      • That might mean the if/when the plug breaks it’ll be like releasing a pop bottle that been shook up for 3 years?

      • Thank you.

        C-C-N’s a bit like watching cat sorta-kinda working up to hawking a *very* large fur-ball.
        Also, lunch.
        Can’t hurl into my network-render ‘Box’, that now has an air-gapped lounging-shelf–

        Ah, there she goes: Very edge of top step, so icky *and* trip-hazard…

          • With a more open conduit, VT earthquakes have down substantially but with uplift and “fluid quakes” still just as high as when the swarm started things haven’t gotten back to normal by any means. The main problem is where is the Magma accumulating, Something has the Igepn spooked since they’re finally going to do a study on the magma chamber and have added more GPS instruments.
            According to Phivolcs, Taal’s degassing has decreased to 56 tons/day which is almost unbelievably low since the volcano is inflating again, the amount of shallow magma to fuel all of this heat and previous degassing must be substantial. Ioto has also gone crazy with it’s deformation and has awakened, bringing it’s first magmatic eruptions in over 400 years. Maybe God has had enough with humanity and is locked and loaded to end this joke called human

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