The intense volcanic activity that occurs in at least 6 Latin American countries keeps the authorities of the region vigilant and, on several times, has led to the issuance of alerts in areas of Chile, Colombia, and Mexico.
A priori, this situation can be explained because a good part of the region is traversed by the Pacific Ring of Fire, in which there are more than 75% of the active and inactive volcanoes in the world and where close to 85% are registered of the earthquakes that shake the planet.
“This type of phenomenon is occurring in an area where volcanic and seismic activity is quite normal. Sometimes coincidences can occur… Geological processes take a long time, hundreds, thousands of years”, reported the Colombian Geological Survey.
The Copahue volcano, 570 kilometers south of Santiago de Chile, after a low intensity eruption in December 2012, now has an eruption probability of about 95%.
In Colombia, some of the most active volcanoes are: Azufral, Chiles, Cumbal, Doña Juana, Galeras, del Huila, Machín, Nevado del Ruíz, Purace, Sotara, and Nevado del Tolima. The Nevado del Ruiz volcano presented an eruption on November 13th, 1985, that caused the disappearance of the population of Armero (center-west of the country), as well as the death of more than 23,000 out of its original 25,000 inhabitants.
According to the Geophysics Institute of the UNAM, in Mexico there are 12 active volcanoes, among which Colima (west) and Popocatepetl (center) stand out, because they take out fumaroles with certain frequency and the first one had eruptions of lava and pyroclastic material in 2015. In July 2015, the release of incandescent material even caused the destruction of the dome in the crater.
Unlike those large volcanoes, which expel pumice (material that is not dense, spongy and full of gas), the small ones release tezontle (a blacker rock, but also full of gas) and emit gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) or sulfur (SO2), with the potential to affect the climate, explains the UNAM. The Mexican Popocatepetl volcano, located about 55 kilometers southeast of Mexico City, and the Center for Disaster Prevention of Mexico (Cenapred) maintain permanent alerts.
Out of the 32 that Guatemala has, in 2019 the volcanoes of Pacaya, Fuego, and Santiaguito reported constant activity with weak to moderate explosions with columns of smoke. Pacaya could have a sudden eruption as its crater has accumulated lava, authorities have warned.
In Costa Rica, the Arenal, the Poás, and the Turrialba register activity. The latter has presented ash eruptions that reach more than 30 kilometers high, in a straight line.
The volcanoes Masaya, Momotombo and Telica, located in the “cord of fire” of the Pacific and in the so-called “mountain range of volcanoes” of Nicaragua, are those that register the most activity.
The Momotombo activity began on December 1st, 2015, after 110 years of being practically asleep. Masaya, which is a colossus of 625 meters high, is located in the Masaya Volcano National Park. Of around 54 square kilometers, it is surrounded by a dry tropical forest that grows between the porous rocks of ancient eruptions. The Telica, 1,061 meters high and located 112 kilometers northwest of Managua, is one of the most active in Nicaragua.
And in Ecuador, the Tungurahua is active and at a level considered “moderately low”, according to the latest report from the Geophysical Institute. “It is clear that risk management is not a question of volcanologists but a social question. How many people live nearby, what type of volcano it is, and what measures can be taken. For example, falling ash is not lethal but pyroclastic flows are”, they argue at the Institute.
And although an eruption, like any other natural phenomena, is uncontrollable, according to the expert from the Colombian government agency, “if there is an informed community, it can respond appropriately and prevent a related tragedy from occurring”.
To conclude, it is worth mentioning that this is a concern that -at the moment- do not have countries like Brazil, Honduras, El Salvador, and Panama, where there are no active volcanoes.