Friday, August 28, 2015

Keeping an eye on Cotopaxi Volcano

- Janine

Cotopaxi volcano is Ecuador's most intensively monitored volcano. With an active past, glacier-covered summit, and surrounding population it is watched very closely by the local team of volcanologists at IGEPN.

Monitoring network on and around Cotopaxi volcano that has been growing since the first seismic station installation in 1976. Courtesy of IGEPN.

Cotopaxi started quietly rumbling to life again in April with an increase in seismic activity. A Seismic swarm on 14th of August preceded phreatic (water) explosions on the 15th, and now Cotopaxi is on Yellow Alert in a phase of near-continuous ash emission (for more details see the Smithsonian Reports).



The above video was posted on August 18th and shows white steam/gas plume emission and ash fall on the snowy flanks.


The above video shows ash emission on the 21st of August with the ash plume that did not exceed 2 km on this day. Ashfall affected the south to west, west, and northwest of the volcano.


The above video taken on August 22nd shows more buoyant ash emission drifting to the West of the volcano.

Preliminary ashfall map for the period of 15th-21st of August, courtesy of IGEPN.

Monitoring Cotopaxi's gasses from space - an Aura/OMI image of SO2 values on 24th and 26th of August.  Courtesy of IGEPN.


36 hours of ash accumulation over 24-26th of August on a seismic monitoring station in the western area of Cotopaxi volcano. Courtesy of IGEPN.

Thermal monitoring of the Cotopaxi summit. This image is of the SW-S flank, taken on the 26th of August with temperatures reaching 160 degrees celsius.  Courtesy of IGEPN.


Seismographs of elevated activity at Cotopaxi volcano on August 26th and 27th, Courtesy of IGEPN.

Seismic energy release graph showing elevated levels over the past three days. Courtesy of IGEPN.

IGPEN lists the following hazards around Cotopaxi volcano:
Pyroclastic flows (gravity currents of rock, gas, and ash)
Ash and pyroclastic fall
Lava flows
Debris (rock) avalanches
Lahars (mud and debris flows)
Volcanic gasses

Lahars are a significant hazard at Cotopaxi due to the ice and snow covered slopes. Below is a Lahar hazard map with potentially affected ares in red:

Cotopaxi volcano lahar hazards map, click HERE for original map.

The Ecuador Security twitter account is posting regular updates (in Spanish) including press releases, volcanic activity reports, preventative measures:



and their website where they post this information is found here.

You can keep an eye on the eruption yourself with the webcams, often showing the eruption plume through the clouds here. The latest GIF below was taken today (28th August at 19:48 local time):


There are many active volcanoes around the world, and many with nearby populations that may be affected by eruptions, and not too many that are as well monitored as Cotopaxi. In an ideal world with plenty of funding and resources all of these volcanoes would have a monitoring system to reduce the risk to the people that live in these beautiful locations. You can follow the excellent efforts of the monitoring team here:







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