“Using satellite data we observed a rapid deformation of the western flank of the Tungurahua, caused, according to our research, by instability between the magma entering and the expulsion of magma (…) What causes this deformation could lead to an increase in the risk of the flank collapsed, causing extensive damage to the surroundings, “said James Hickey, a geophysical volcanologist at the University of Camborne School of Mines.
The deformation could be explained by the temporary and superficial storage of magma under the western flank of the volcano, located in the province of Tungurahua in the Ecuadorian Andes, 120 kilometers south of Quito, suggests the study, according to a statement from the university, in which the Camborne School of Mines is part of the Faculty of Engineering.
If this storage of magma continues, the volume can cause stress to build up within the volcanic cone and lead to new instability of the western flank and its potential collapse.
“The entrance of magma is one of several factors that can cause or contribute to the instability of volcanic flanks, so although there is a risk of possible collapse, the uncertainty of these natural systems also means that they can remain stable. However, you have to watch it in the future, “Hickey said.
The volcano, 5,020 meters high, is in the eruption phase since 1999, when about 25,000 people from the surrounding area had to be evacuated.
From 1,300 BC, the volcano produces pyroclastic eruptions, ash fall and lava flows at least once a century, according to information from the Geophysical Institute of Ecuador.
In July and August 2006, the volcano produced two large explosive eruptions that affected the western and southern western targets, and since then it has recorded intermittent periods of activity from a few days to weeks.
An eruption about 3,000 years ago caused a partial collapse of the western flank that generated an avalanche of rock, earth, snow and water that covered 80 square kilometers.
The study was published in the specialized journal Earth & Planetary Science Letters.