NATIONAL SCIENCE

Previously Undocumented Volcano Discovered in Patagonia

Previously undocumented volcano discovered in Patagonia

A volcano was recently discovered in the Aysén region of Patagonia. It is believed to be active. The researchers who found it, dubbed it, “Volcán Mate Grande.”

A newly-discovered volcano, believed to be active, lies about 80 kilometers southeast of Coyhaique in the Aysén region of Patagonia. The team that found it, led by researchers from University of Chile, have named it, “Volcán Mate Grande,” in honor of the famous drink consumed in the region.

The researchers, led by Gregory de Pascale from the Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at University of Chile, were in the region tracing one of the largest and most dangerous fault zones in the world, the Liquiñe-Ofqui Fault Zone. To do this, they followed the trace of the fault from south to north, but they had great difficulty locating the fault in one zone. The apparent absence of the fault was due to the presence of a previously-undocumented volcanic system which had at some point collapsed and partially covered evidence of the fault.

Researchers had often speculated about a volcanic system in between the Hudson, Maca, and Cay systems as there was a seemingly large gap. Satellite images confirmed the presence of a topographic high, a volcanic edifice of a similar size to Mount Vesuvius, the famous volcano that destroyed the city of Pompei in Naples.

Satellite images of the area which the authors used to identify features related to the volcano.
Satellite images of the area which the authors used to identify features related to the volcano.

Volcán Mate Grande was located through a series of helicopter flights researchers used to identify layers of rock that only could have been deposited by historic eruptions. As the three closest volcanoes, Volcán Hudson, to the southeast, and Volcán Maca and Volcán Cay, to the north, were too distal to have formed such deposits, it was clear the area needed further investigation.

It turns out the newly-found volcano grew inside in a much larger sunken area, a caldera, that likely formed in a large eruption long before Volcán Mate Grande existed. The top and one side of the volcanic edifice had partially collapsed leaving a landslide deposit which could also be seen from the satellite images. The researchers noted that some of the deposit was offset by the Liquiñe-Ofqui Fault Zone, which allowed them to determine the potential rates of movement along the fault and the timing of the last eruptive episodes at the volcano. These observations suggest the volcano is still active and potentially capable of eruption in the future although there are no current signs of unrest.

Still “discovering” volcanoes

In the modern era, it is perhaps strange to report the discovery of a new 1,000-meter high volcano, but this is testament to the inaccessibility of some of the most remote parts of Patagonia. The study also speculates that there are likely other volcanic systems that are undocumented and waiting to be found. The Patagonia region has an abundance of glaciers, snow cover, and persistent rain and cloud cover that make satellite observations challenging. It is important to recognize previously-undocumented and potentially active volcanic centers because they pose a risk to settlements and air traffic in the region.

An example of a sleeping giant was the eruption of Volcano Chaitén in the Los Lagos region. Chaitén had long been recognized as a volcano, but it was thought to be largely inactive. That changed the morning of May 2, 2008, when, with little warning, a large explosive eruption commenced blanketing the nearby towns to the east with ash and sending dangerous pyroclastic flows towards the town of Chaitén to the west.

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