The Tungurahua volcano in Ecuador – known locally as both the “throat of fire” and the “black giant” – is displaying the hallmarks of a potential collapse, which could result in a colossal landslide, a new study suggests.
“Using satellite data we have observed very rapid deformation of Tungurahua’s west flank, which our research suggests is caused by imbalances between magma being supplied and magma being erupted,” said study lead author James Hickey, a geophysical volcanologist from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, in a statement.
The Tungurahua volcano, one of Ecuador’s most active volcanoes, has a long history of flank collapse and has been frequently active since 1999. Flank collapse is the failure of a large section of a volcano’s unstable slope.
Volcanic activity in 1999 caused an evacuation of 25,000 people from nearby communities. The volcano is located in the Andes Mountains about 85 miles south of the capital of Ecuador, Quito.
A previous eruption of Tungurahua, around 3,000 years ago, caused a prior, partial collapse of the west flank of the volcanic cone.
This collapse led to a widespread debris avalanche of moving rock, soil, snow and water that covered 30 square miles – which is the equivalent of more than 11,000 football fields.
Since then, the volcano has steadily been rebuilt over time, peaking with a steep-sided cone more than 16,000 feet in height.
There remains some uncertainty about whether another collapse will occur, however.
“Magma supply is one of a number of factors that can cause or contribute to volcanic flank instability, so while there is a risk of possible flank collapse, the uncertainty of these natural systems also means it could remain stable,” Hickey said. “However, it’s definitely one to keep an eye on in the future.”
The study was published in the journal Earth & Planetary Science Letters.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tungurahua volcano: Ecuador’s ‘throat of fire’ could collapse
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