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Ecuador’s ‘Throat of Fire’ volcano on its way to a devastating ‘potential collapse’

Scientists fear the ‘Throat of Fire’ volcano of Ecuador on its way to a devastating ‘potential collapse’

  • The west face of Tungurahua is slowly deforming, satellite data has been revealed
  • This instability can lead to a colossal landslide of material in the local area
  • When Tungurahua broke out in 1999, 25,000 people were evacuated up close
  • A collapse of the west face 3000 years ago covered 30.9 square miles in ruins

The Tungurahua volcano (‘Throat of Fire’) in Ecuador shows the characteristics of a devastating ‘potential collapse’, geologists warn.

The active volcano – locally known as ‘The Black Giant’ – seems to be developing an unstable west side or ‘flank’, which can lead to a colossal landslide.

Such a collapse can cause major damage to the area – including Baños de Agua Santa, the second most populated city in the region.

Researchers recommend that Tungurahua be closely monitored to watch for signs of an imminent collapse of the flank.

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The Tungurahua volcano ('Throat of Fire') in Ecuador shows the characteristics of a devastating 'potential collapse', geologists warn. The active volcano appears to be developing an unstable west side or 'flank', which can lead to a colossal landslide

The Tungurahua volcano (‘Throat of Fire’) in Ecuador shows the characteristics of a devastating ‘potential collapse’, geologists warn. The active volcano appears to be developing an unstable west side or ‘flank’, which can lead to a colossal landslide

TUNGURAHUA STATES

Place: central Ecuador

Meaning of the name: “Throat of Fire”

Volcano type: stratovolcano

Last burst: 2000-2018

Height: 16,480 feet above sea level

Pictured, smoking Tungurahua in 2010

Pictured, smoking Tungurahua in 2010

Pictured, smoking Tungurahua in 2010

Geophysicist James Hickey of the University of Exeter and colleagues have studied the changes in the volcano.

“With the help of satellite data, we have observed a very rapid distortion of the western flank of Tungurahua, which, according to our research, is caused by imbalances between providing magma and erupting magma,” he said.

The team suggests that the distortion can be explained by the temporary storage of magma at shallow depths below the weakened western flank of the volcano.

If magma is still supplied to this reservoir, the increasing voltage in the volcanic core can cause the west flank to become unstable and collapse.

“Magma supply is one of a number of factors that can cause or contribute to volcanic flank instability,” Dr. Hickey explains.

“So although there is a risk that the flank will collapse, the uncertainty of these natural systems means that it can also remain stable.

“It is certainly one to keep an eye on in the future.”

Such a collapse can cause major damage to the area - including Baños de Agua Santa, the second most populated city in the region. Pictured, Tungurahua

Such a collapse can cause major damage to the area - including Baños de Agua Santa, the second most populated city in the region. Pictured, Tungurahua

Such a collapse can cause major damage to the area – including Baños de Agua Santa, the second most populated city in the region. Pictured, Tungurahua

The team suggests that the distortion can be explained by the temporary storage of magma at shallow depths below the weakened western flank of the volcano. If magma continues to be supplied to this reservoir, the tension in the volcanic core can cause the west flank to collapse

The team suggests that the distortion can be explained by the temporary storage of magma at shallow depths below the weakened western flank of the volcano. If magma continues to be supplied to this reservoir, the tension in the volcanic core can cause the west flank to collapse

The team suggests that the distortion can be explained by the temporary storage of magma at shallow depths below the weakened western flank of the volcano. If magma continues to be supplied to this reservoir, the tension in the volcanic core can cause the west flank to collapse

Tungurahua - which has been active since 1999, when an eruption (photo) forced the evacuation of around 25,000 people from the area - has undergone a long history of flanking

Tungurahua - which has been active since 1999, when an eruption (photo) forced the evacuation of around 25,000 people from the area - has undergone a long history of flanking

Tungurahua – which has been active since 1999, when an eruption (photo) forced the evacuation of around 25,000 people from the area – has undergone a long history of flanking

Tungurahua – which has been active since 1999, when an eruption forced the evacuation of around 25,000 people from the area – has undergone a long history of flanking.

An eruption of Tungurahua about 3000 years ago led at that time to a partial collapse of the western flank of the volcanic cone.

It is believed that this event has covered approximately 80 square kilometers – the equivalent of approximately 11,000 football pitches – in an avalanche of rocks, earth, snow and water.

Since this eruption, the volcano has steadily rebuilt itself and formed a steep cone with a peak that reaches around 16,480 feet (5,023 meters) above sea level – the west flank now showing signs of collapse like three millennia ago.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Earth & Planetary Science Letters.

The active volcano - locally known as 'The Black Giant' - seems to be developing an unstable west side or 'flank', which can lead to a colossal landslide. Such a collapse can cause major damage to the area - including Baños de Agua Santa, the second most populated city in the region

The active volcano - locally known as 'The Black Giant' - seems to be developing an unstable west side or 'flank', which can lead to a colossal landslide. Such a collapse can cause major damage to the area - including Baños de Agua Santa, the second most populated city in the region

The active volcano – locally known as ‘The Black Giant’ – seems to be developing an unstable west side or ‘flank’, which can lead to a colossal landslide. Such a collapse can cause major damage to the area – including Baños de Agua Santa, the second most populated city in the region

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