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By Luke Stone, Forecaster Posted 9 months ago October 1, 2023

Villarrica Volcano Activity Increases, Alert Level Raised to Orange

Five days ago, authorities in Chile raised the alert level to orange for the Villaricca Volcano. Since then, volcanic activity has increased, prompting evacuations, school closures, and access to the stratovolcano has been closed.

Located in the southern part of Chile, Villarrica is one of the country's most active volcanoes.

The National Geology and Mining Service of Chile (SERNAGEOMIN) observed heightened volcanic activity as of September 24. Monitoring stations picked up increased seismic activity, suggesting a potential eruption. Consequently, SERNAGEOMIN elevated the volcano's alert status to orange, the second highest level on the four-tier scale. 

The safety boundary around Villarrica has been expanded from 0.5 km to 8 km. Around 30 families between the communes of Villarrica and Pucon have been relocated, and there was a warning in place for a potential evacuation of the Pucon Ski Center. On September 25, the Ministry of Education suspended classes in five schools in the Panguipulli Commune. Further eruptions may cause low-level seismic activity, ash clouds, and landslides in the surrounding area.

Yesterday, the Volcanic Surveillance Informative Network (RIVV) reported the first ash emission, which marked the first in a series of pulses and ash emissions. Below is an image of a pyroclast that was recovered from the area. 

Another concern from the increased activity of the Villarrica Volcano is deteriorating air quality, especially near the crater after a major eruption. People in the vicinity, particularly those with respiratory conditions like asthma, COPD, or lung cancers, may experience difficulty breathing..

Villaricca is one of just a few volcanoes worldwide with an active lava lake within its crater. The volcano is a popular tourist attraction, and many people hike to the summit to view the lava lake. The Villarrica Volcano is a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding, and is home to the Pucon Ski Center. Visitors can ski or snowboard on the slopes of an active volcano, which is a unique experience. The ski resort may even close for safety reasons during periods of increased volcanic activity.

Villarrica has a history of eruptions, most recently occurring in 1964, 1971, and 2015. The 1964 eruption claimed several lives. In March of that year, a lava spout shot approximately 500 meters above the summit from the crater, resulting in a new fracture on the upper SSE slope. Rapid melting of snow and ice led to significant lahars (a type of mudflow or debris flow that originates from a volcano) and meltwater surges that destroyed nearly half of the town of Coñaripe. 

There are many other active volcanoes in Chile, such as Osorno, Llaima, and Lonquimay, to name a few. Due to the country's position along the boundary of the Nazca and South American tectonic plates, it experiences regular volcanic activity.

The volcano will be continuously monitored for any changes in its activity, and you can view a live feed of it here. Residents should regularly monitor updates from the National Geology and Mining Service of Chile and local authorities. They will provide timely information on the volcano's activity and any necessary evacuation orders, and have an evacuation plan should further eruptions occur. 

Luke Stone
Forecaster, OpenSnow

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About The Author

Luke Stone

Forecaster

Luke Stone earned his M.S. in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Utah, with a research focus on seasonal forecasting. Luke has scored deep days around the world, including coast-to-coast across the United States, Canada, and Europe.

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