Chaiten: anniversary of an eruption

Chaiten: anniversary of an eruption

May 1st marks the anniversary of the start of the first historical eruption of Chaiten, a small volcano in southern Chile, in 2008. A lot has been written on the eruption elsewhere, starting with Erik Klemetti’s eruptions blog which first reported on the event at the time. This is an opportunity to share some field photos, which I took during field visits to Chaiten in 2009. At the time of the eruption, Chaiten was not well known,  but it was recognised to be an old dome of obsidian lava, last thought to have erupted about ten thousand years previously. In fact, we now know that Chaiten has a long history of explosive eruptions of  rhyolite magma, and is probably one of the most prolific producers of rhyolite in southern Chile.

The snapshots illustrate some of the transient consequences of explosive, ash-rich eruptions for both people, and the environment; and some of the excitement of  trying to read the deposits before they have been washed away. Enjoy!

Further reading: a special issue of the Open Access journal ‘Andean Geology‘ on the Chaiten eruption was published in May 2013. This issue contains a number of papers that describe the 2008 eruption and its consequences, and others that reconstruct the past history of this volcano.


Ash and leaf litter


Prints in the ash


Impressions in ash


Ash in the undergrowth


“Chaiten will not die”


“We want to return to Chaiten, our little town”


Wood shavings


Chaiten bay, choked with pumice

Approaching Chaiten

Approaching Chaiten


Survey spot


Field volcanology


Evening glow

Acknowledgements: funding for fieldwork on Chaiten and elsewhere in southern Chile was provided by grants from NERC and the British Council. Field collaborators included Fabrizio Alfano, Constanza Bonadonna, Chuck Connor, Laura Connor and Seb Watt.

Further reading:

JJ Major and LA Lara, 2013, Overview of Chaiten volcano, Chile, and its 2008-2009 eruption, Andean Geology 40 (2), 196-215. [Open Access]

SFL Watt et al., 2009, Fallout and distribution of volcanic ash over Argentina following the May 2008 explosive eruption of Chaiten, Chile, Journal of Geophysical Research 114 (B04207).

SFL Watt et al., 2013, Evidence of mid- to late-Holocene explosive rhyolitic eruptions from Chaitén Volcano, Chile,  Andean Geology 40 (2), 216-226. [Open Access]

David Pyle is a volcanologist, and Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford. His first encounter with volcanoes was at the age of 7, when he visited Villarrica, Chile, shortly after an eruption. David studied geological sciences at the University of Cambridge, and later completed a PhD on the 'older' eruptions of Santorini, Greece. After a short post-doc at the California Institute of Technology, David returned to a lectureship in Cambridge. In 2006, he moved to his current post in Oxford. David tweets at @davidmpyle

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