Geologists around the world are pouring over news reports from Chile of the massive eruption of the Chaiten volcano high in the Andes mountains.
The eruption, which has sent a plume of volcanic ash 12 miles into the sky, is in a rural part of the country hundreds of miles south of Santiago.
“It’s so remote, in fact, that at first the eruption was attributed to the wrong volcano,” said WSU volcanologist John Wolff.
“It’s not clear if it’s building or dying,” Wolff said. “Unlike the catastrophic eruption of (Washington state’s) Mount St. Helens in 1980, which was over in a day, this one is going to continue.”
The good news for Northwest residents is that there is much more monitoring of the Cascade volcanoes than of the remote section of the Andes being blanketed by volcanic debris.
“There apparently wasn’t local warning in this case in Chile. But here in the Cascades we should see an eruption like this coming because we have much more seismic monitoring,” Wolff said.
Geologists would likely be able to issue alerts on a timescale of days-to-weeks before such an eruption in Washington, Wolff said.
Both the Cascades and the Andean volcanoes are formed due to plate tectonic forces. The slow movement of large sections of the Earth’s surface creates pockets of molten material that occasionally makes its way to the surface in the form of an eruption, Wolff said.