This marks a full week of eruption at Chaiten and the volcano shows no signs of abating.
You have to feel for Luis Lara. He is apparently the pointman for the SERNAGEOMIN in regards to this eruption and really, I think its anybody’s guess what might happen next. Heck, we haven’t seen many eruptions of this scale – and this out-of-the-blue – since the birth of modern volcanology, so we’re testing a lot of hypotheses now. What Dr. Lara says is that the eruption is still going strong, lava flows seem to be occurring at/near the vent but not spilling out of the caldera, the two vents have coalesced and the ash column still hasn’t started to collapse. Interestingly, rivers coming from the Chaiten area have risen in temperature 7-17 C, which is quite remarkable. My guess (emphasize guess) is that the water from the two (former) lakes in the caldera is mixing with the erupting material, however I have yet to hear any real reports of lahars (a volcanic mudflow). Ash has made it all the way to Porto Montt, 200 miles to the north (prevailing winds in southern Chile head east) and Dr. Lara says at least 2 cubic km of pyroclastic material has been erupted thus far. For comparison, Mt. Saint Helens 1980 was much less than 1 cubic km.
So the question becomes: how big is this eruption going to get? Are we talking about an eruption that is Pinatubo scale? Crater Lake? Valley of 10,000 Smokes? Taupo? Toba? (OK, it has got a long way to go before we hit those last three magnitudes). Nevertheless, this is quite a rare event. Too bad (for me) that it is about as far away as it could be from my present location in California.
Of course, to go with this eruption and the cyclone in Myanmar, there is a lot of real shoddy journalism going around, trying to make links between events. This article (from Fox News!) tries to break the links, but in such a way that is sure to make the folks waiting for Ragnarok or the Rapture gleeful. I always hate it when students use the phrase structure “Scientists say …”, which is, of course, in the title of this article. Yes folks, the Earth is a hazardous place … well, at least to us humans.