Uturuncu – The Bolivian waking giant

Tuesday, November 1, 2011
By Paul Martin

VolcanoScience.com

Uturuncu volcano in Bolivia is inflating at a (geologically) breakneck pace of 2cm a year, since measurements began at the volcano in 2000. This has been found to be one of the largest inflating volcanic regions on earth, with some concerned that this could lead to a supervolcano eruption in the future. Scientists however point out that the combination of crustal structural weakness, large magma reservoir, and other factors make this extremely unlikely.

When large magma chambers inflate, it’s really anyone’s guess as to what can happen. Some times, small fractures in the crust can lead to a monogenetic volcanic field such as Michoacan-Guanajuato in central Mexico, large fissure type eruptions such as the famed Laki eruption in Iceland during the 1700′s, large caldera forming events such as the catastrophic destruction of Mount Mazama in the Cascades which forms Crater Lake/Wizard Island, or of course the worst case scenario of a Toba or Yellowstone type eruption.

As humans living today have not even come remotely close to witnessing a super volcanic eruption (or any eruption with a higher than VEI 7), it remains highly unlikely that the inflation at Uturuncu would lead to a super volcano.

Uturuncu is though to have last erupted during the Pleistocene, however fumeroles, and post glacial lava flows are present, suggesting later stage activity. These Andes range volcanoes are sneaky, and erupt without a moment’s notice sometimes. Chaiten volcano in Chile was thought to be a long dormant dome, when it erupted quite suddenly in 2008, and the eruption is ongoing.

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