This blog provides commentary on interesting geological events occurring around the world in the context of my own work. This work is, broadly, geological fluid dynamics. The events that I highlight here are those that resonate with my professional life and ideas, and my goal is to interpret them in the context of ideas I've developed in my research. The blog does not represent any particular research agenda. It is written on a personal basis and does not seek to represent the University of Illinois, where I am a professor of geology and physics. Enjoy Geology in Motion! I would be glad to be alerted to geologic events of interest to post here! I hope that this blog can provide current event materials that will make geology come alive.

Banner image is by Ludie Cochrane..

Susan Kieffer can be contacted at s1kieffer at gmail.com

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A little known, potentially dangerous, volcanic system at Laguna del Maule, Chile

Maule Lake image
from http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=76827
Note the grey lava flow at the bottom center edge of the Lake
Where in the world is the earth moving up at about 1' per year? Not Yellowstone, but at a relatively little known volcanic field that straddles the crest of the Andes at 36 S latitude.  A recent article by Brad Singer et al. entitled "Dynamics of a large, restless, rhyolitic magma system at Laguna del Maule, Southern Andes, Chile" in GSA Today, v. 24(12) pp. 4-10, 2014 describes this field and it's potential danger. The Lake lies within a 15x25 km caldera. The volcanic complex covers about 300 square kilometers, and contains a cluster of stratovolcanoes, lava domes and cinder cones. The volcanoes sit about 90 km over the subducting slab of the Nazca plate.

The field has 13 cubic kilometers of rhyolite erupted during the past 20,000 years. There have been a dozen crystal-poor, glassy rhyolitic lavas during the Holocene (the past 11,700 years).

In March 2013, the Observatorio Volcanologico de los Andes del Sur (OVDAS) issued a yellow alert, indicating a potential eruption within months to years based on an alarming surface uplift over the last 7 years and swarms of shallow earthquakes.  (In 2010 there was a M8.8 earthquake 230 km to the east.) Early activity in the Pleistocene culminated in "a spectacular concentric ring of 36 separate post-glacial silicic eruptions" between about 25,000-2,000 years ago. The most recent eruptions "were from 24 vents and produced 15 rhyodacite and 21 rhyolite coulees and lava domes." The vents encircle the lake basin. Pumice and ash fall deposits in Argentina may equal these flows in volume.  The only comparable Holocene rhyolite flareup, the authors point out, is along the Mono Craters chain in California.

According to Fournier et al. (2010)*, the rate of surface deformation was negligible from January 2003 to February 2004, but then accelerated between 2004-2007. Feigel et al. (2014)^ have found uplift rates exceeding 280 mm/year (28 cm/year; 11 inches per year). In comparison, this is 2-5 times the greatest rates measured for Yellowstone or Santorini.

Electrical resistivity data suggest a magma body with a hydrothermal system at about 5 km depth, at a location that agrees well with the source of inflation inferred from the geodetic data. 69% of recorded earthquakes between 2011 and 2014 are shallower than 5 km, and most occur under rhyolite vents along the periphery of the uplifting region.

Figure 5 in the referenced paper. Hypothesized
cross section of the Laguana del Maule complex.
The current observations are interpreted in terms of the magmatic mush model of Hildreth (2004) and Hildreth and Wilson (2007), a model that was originally developed to explain the integrated observations of the Long Valley system that erupted 650 cubic kilometers of the Bishop Tuff 767,000 years ago. The magma system is inferred to contain a thin boundary layer of granitoid that is solidified against country rocks.  "Inboard" of this is a rigid "sponge" consisting of crystals with some minor interstitial melt, and inside of this is a crystal rich mush. The mush is maintained in its partial molten state by fluxing of heat and magic magma through the deeper parts of the crustal reservoir. Melt-rch lenses develop near the roof, creating a low-density barrier through which the denser mafic magma cannot rise to the surface. This mush near the top can be tapped to provide the recent/future rhyolitic eruptions.

The proposed setting under the volcanic complex is shown in the figure to the right/above. It includes inferences consistent with the rapid uplift, shallow earthquakes, active intrusion of magic magma at 5 km depth, and normal faulting and geodetic data that record radial extension to form the circumference of vents.

*Fournier, T.J., et al., Duration, magnitude and frequency of subaerial volcano deformation events: Nw results from Latin America using InSAR and global synthesis, Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 11, doi: 10.1029/2009GC002558

^Feigl, K.I., et al., Geophysical Journal International, v. 196, 885-901, doi:10.1093/gji/ggt438

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