U-M experts available to discuss eruption of Calbuco Volcano in Chile

April 24, 2015


A volcano that had been quiet for 40 years erupted twice in Chile Wednesday, forcing the evacuation of more than 4,000 people. The cloud of ash spewed by the volcano blanketed with ash several towns in the nearby areas both in Chile and Argentina, forcing the closing of roads, schools and the airport of Bariloche in Argentina, about 62 miles away.

Authorities in Chile have said the cloud could reach the country’s capital Santiago, about 670 miles away, by today but it’s unlikely it will affect daily activities there. Although experts have said the volcano’s activity has decreased, another eruption is possible. A state of emergency remains in the area.

University of Michigan experts are ready to discuss the natural phenomenon.

Adam Simon, is a geologist with a research focus on volcanoes and natural resources that form in volcanic systems and an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences.

“Calbuco has erupted many, many times and will likely continue to erupt. There is no way to predict accurately how long until the next eruption. But we can say with confidence that it will erupt again,” he said. “Calbuco will go back to rest. More gas will accumulate in the magma chamber, that gas will try to escape, but be blocked by the lava cork. At some point in the near future, the gas will move the cork and Calbuco will erupt again.

“I like to use the analogy of champagne when describing volcanic eruptions. Inside a bottle of unopened champagne, the pressure is about six to seven times the pressure on the outside of the bottle. At that ‘high’ pressure, the liquid champagne can dissolve carbon dioxide. However, as soon as you open the bottle, there is a huge pressure gradient and the carbon dioxide escapes from the liquid and erupts as a froth that is a combination of both carbon dioxide and liquid. For champagne, we cause the eruption by simply uncorking the bottle. For a volcano, there is also a cork, and this is usually lava that solidifies within the interior of the volcano. As the volcano tries to get rid of its gases (carbon dioxide, water, sulfur), the gases exert tremendous pressure on the lava ‘cork’ until eventually, the cork is pushed out of the way and the gases plus lava erupt to the atmosphere.”

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Masako Morishita, a research assistant professor at U-M’s School of Public Health, can discuss the potential impact of the ashes on human health.

“Volcanic ash particles generally contain minerals and volcanic glass (i.e., cooled magma). It’s been reported that water quality may increase its turbidity and acidity after ashfall, although these are usually short-term concerns,” she said. “If ash is falling in your area, stay inside with windows and doors closed. You may want to turn off air conditioning/heating systems. If you have to go outside, you may want to wear a dust mask or a respirator to protect your respiratory system. Exposure to volcanic ash can cause nose, eye and throat irritation. Children, elderly and people with heart/lung health conditions should be extra cautious.”

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