Nothing breaks up the day like an unexpected volcanic eruption. On April 22, Calbuco in southern Chile erupted in dramatic fashion — sending a massive plume of ash more than 12 miles into the air.
No one saw this coming. The volcano had been quiet for the last 42 years before erupting twice in the span of a few hours, all with just 15 minutes of warning beforehand. Some 4,000 residents in the nearby town of Puerto Montt and surrounding areas were evacuated. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
The fact that there's a town nearby also meant lots of people were there take pictures. Over at Wired, Erik Klemetti points out that a number of dramatic time-lapse videos of the eruption have been posted on YouTube:
"Within as little as 15 minutes, the eruption commenced," recounts Klemetti. "This suggested rapid ascent of magma from its source under the volcano but as the intensity of the eruption appears to have waned as nightfall arrived."
Meanwhile, photographers from the AFP were taking some photographs of the volcano throughout the day. Here's the view of the eruption from the nearby town of Puerto Montt on April 22:
Here's another view of the volcano later at night that shows lightning accompanying the eruption — a not-uncommon phenomenon caused by static electricity in the ash clouds.
Here's an earlier daytime view from Puerto Varas:
The Smithsonian has more detail on Calbuco, including this eerie historical note: "One of the largest historical eruptions in southern Chile took place from Calbuco in 1893-1894. Violent eruptions ejected 30-cm bombs to distances of 8 km from the crater, accompanied by voluminous hot lahars [a mudflow slurry that can move extremely quickly and destroy towns in their path]. Several days of darkness occurred in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina."
It's unclear whether Calbuco will erupt again anytime soon. The fact that it went from quiet to explosive in such a short timespan just underscores how hard it can be to predict these things.
Chile has about 500 potentially active volcanoes, more than any other country save for Indonesia. (The subduction of the Nazca tectonic plate to the east is responsible for the creation of the volcanic Andes mountain range — plus plenty of earthquakes in the area.) Indeed, this is already Chile's second big volcanic outburst of the year, after Villarrica erupted in March, causing thousands to flee the nearby tourist town of Pucón.
Further reading: It's also fortunate that Calbuco isn't near a massive population center. Over at his blog Views of the World, Benjamin Hennig takes a look at which volcanoes are near lots of people.
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