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Villarrica in eruption

The eruption of Villarrica in the night of 2 March 1964. Photo by Erwin Patzelt

Villarrica volcano, Chile

The 1963-1964 eruptions

1963 cinder cone

Summit crater filled with a growing cinder cone
(Full picture JPEG: 72K) Aerial view of the summit of Villarrica during the first stage of the 1963 eruption, March or April 1963. The crater is completely filled with a new cinder cone whose active vent is visible in the lower right (northeast?) part of the main crater. Photo taken from Casertano (1963b).

1963 lava flow

Summit of Villarrica with lava flow
(Full picture JPEG: 95K) Villarrica's summit seen from S (?) on 21 May 1963. A brightly incandescent lava flow is visible in the center of the photograph. The summit area is darkened from recent tephra falls, and conspicuous fracturing of the glacal icecap is visible in the lower right corner of the image. Photo taken from Casertano (1963b).

The following is based mainly on the description of the eruption given by Casertano (1963b); reports about activity in 1964 are sketchy but newly supplied eyewitness accounts provide new insights in the 1963-1964 eruptive cycle.

The 1963 eruption may be considered typical for Villarrica; nonetheless, there is only one detailed report about it (Casertano 1963b). Activity began with the formation of a cinder cone within the summit crater on 8 March 1963 when weak Strombolian explosions were observed. The magma column continued to rise during the following 4 days, and on early 12 March, a lava flow began to issue from a vent situated about 250 m below the summit. During the afternoon of that day, dark ejecta con-taining blocks 30 cm in diameter rose 100 m above the summit. The subterminal lava flow on the WSW flank was brilliantly incandescent along its upper 250 m below which it was covered with a solid crust.
The eruption continued much the same way through 19 March, after which only steam emission from the summit was observed. The lava flow had stopped after reaching a length of about 1 km.

Summit explosive activity resumed on late 13 April, and on the following day, a new lava flow descended along the earlier flow, this time being fed by two boccas within the summit crater while there were no significant explosive phenomena. Poor weather prevented detailed observations of the volcano during the following days, but on 22 April, rivers draining N flank of the volcano showed increased discharge rates. No significant activity occurred in late April.

At about 1500 on 2 May, after a series of earthquakes, a dense column rose from the summit to attain a height of about 1.5 km, causing ash and lapilli falls in the town of Pucón. The volcano was veiled by clouds until about 1830 when a new lava flow was seen descending the W (?) flank. Dense vapor clouds were produced where the lava interacted with snow and ice, and meltwater floods rushed down the N flanks of the volcano, destroying a bridge between the towns of Pucón and Villarrica.
Lava emission continued for a couple of days, followed by a period of quiet that was in turn followed by another eruptive episode on early 21 May. On that morning, a new lava flow issued from the summit crater and overflowed onto the SW flank. Rapid melting of snow triggered flash floods that devastated areas along the Seco, Escorial, and Chaillupén rivers. Several buildings and three bridges were destroyed, and there may have been fatalities (Volcanoes of the World, 1994 edition).
Lava extrusion continued for several days afterwards, and on 25 May, the volcano had become completely quiet. It is, however, possible that activity resumed shortly after the end of Casertano's observation period in May 1963 (Casertano was transferred to Italy and there were no more observations of the volcano by trained observers through the remainder of the 1960's).

The destructive eruption on 1-3 March 1964 is generally listed as an isolated event but recent research of contemporary sources and eyewitness accounts as well as newly supplied photos indicated that this event was preceded by at least several weeks of effusive and weak explosive activity. Press reports (e.g., "Die Welt", 4 March 1964) mention that Villarrica had become active "for the second time in two weeks" and an eyewitness account published in the "Franziskusblatt" (Altötting, Germany; vol. 65, Nov. 1964) says that residents living near the volcano had observed activity (probably Strombolian explosions) for several weeks.

Erwin Patzelt who was in Chile during the early 1960's overflew the volcano twice in late 1963/early 1964 (see photos below), once probably during the Austral summer (when there was little snow on the summit) and the second time shortly before the 1-3 March event. On both occasions, lava was pouring from the summit crater. The earlier overflight revealed the absence of any large intracrateral cone but complex collapse structures at the summit, and a thin lava river running downslope on the SW flank. Tephra had been deposited on the snow on the E flank. During the second overflight, the summit crater was filled with a large tephra hill and an active cinder cone sat asymetrically in the S part of the crater. A compound field of numerous overlapping lava flow lobes had formed on the SW and W flanks, many of the lobes having covered the summit icecap rather than melting it, but lahars had been generated at somewhat lower elevations. An active lava flow was running downslope to about 1.5-2 km from the summit, its front interacting vigorously with glacial ice. Recent lahar deposits reached the base of the volcano.

The culmination of this activity came late on 1 March when a lava fountain shot to about 500 m above the summit from the crater and a short new fracture on the upper SSE slope. Rapid melting of snow and ice caused large lahars and meltwater floods that rushed down the Diuco river and destroyed about 50% of the town of Coñaripe. At least 25 people were killed. This eruptive event was characterized by high eruption rates and the partial splitting of the cone's uppermost portions, leading to the generation of the devastating mudflows. During the days after the disaster, activity at the volcano rapidly decreased.

There seems to have been little activity for the next 7 years. An overflight by Mrs. Hennecke in mid 1970 or 1971 revealed that the summit crater contained a large pit (caused by the collapse of the 1964 cone). The pit was covered with snow, and not even fumarolic activity was occurring.

Photos of the 1964 activity

Copyright © Erwin Patzelt, 1964, 1996

Villarrica 1964

Villarrica from West, late 1963/early 1964
(Full picture JPEG: 165K) Aerial view of Villarrica's summit area, looking east. The summit crater is filled with steam, so no details of its inner structures are visible. A lava flow is issuing from the lowest point in the SW crater rim (right). Photo Copyright by Erwin Patzelt, 1964; 1996.

Villarrica 1964

Lava flow issuing from summit crater
(Full picture JPEG: 120K) Aerial view of Villarrica's summit area, looking northeast. Lava flow issuing from subterminal bocca on SW crater rim is visible in the foreground. Photo Copyright by Erwin Patzelt, 1964; 1996.

Villarrica 1964
Summit crater, with Lago Villarrica in background
(Full picture JPEG: 93K) Aerial view of Villarrica's summit area, looking NNW. Note absence of any major cinder cone in the summit crater and lava flow on the W side (left). Glacier in foreground shows large crevasses. Pucon village is visible on the shore of Lake Villarrica in the left background. Photo Copyright by Erwin Patzelt, 1964; 1996.

Villarrica 1964
Overflight shortly before the March 1964 eruption
(Full picture JPEG: 80K) Aerial view of Villarrica (center foreground), Quetrupillán (left) and Lanin volcanoes, taken from the WNW shortly before the early March 1964 paroxysm. A small tephra plume is rising from Villarrica's active summit crater and a white vapor plume is visible on the lower right (southwestern) flank of the volcano where a lava flow is interacting with a glacier. Recent lahars reaching the base of the cone are visible as dark streaks in the lower center and right parts of the photo. A part of the Villarrica I caldera rim is visible at the left, below Quetrupillán volcano. Photo Copyright by Erwin Patzelt, 1964; 1996.

Villarrica 1964
Lava flow interacting with a glacier
(Full picture JPEG: 118K) Aerial view of Villarrica, looking east. A thin lava river is running down the SW flank, across a field of recent lava flows (note flows with prominent levees and flow channels in lower left part of photo). The active flow front is interacting with the lower part of a glacier, causing production of a large vapor plume. Quetrupillán volcano is visible in upper right corner. Photo Copyright by Erwin Patzelt, 1964; 1996.

Villarrica 1964

Active lava flow channel and recent lava field
(Full picture JPEG: 98K) Zooming in on the upper part of Villarrica's edifice, looking NE. The active lava flow is distinctly visible in the center of the photo. A field of numerous overlapping lava flow lobes lies to the right of the upper part of the active flow; these lava flow lobes appear to have covered the ice cap rather than melting into it. Steam plume rising from lava front interacting with glacier is visible at bottom of the photograph. Photo Copyright by Erwin Patzelt, 1964; 1996.

Villarrica 1964

Close-up of summit and active lava flow
(Full picture JPEG: 113K) Detail of preceding photo, showing summit crater filled with a large tephra mound and an asymmetrically placed cinder cone that displays Strombolian activity (right crater rim). Note well-defined flow channels and levees in lava flow field to the right of the active lava flow. For still more detail (active cone and lava flow), click here (JPEG: 73K). Photo Copyright by Erwin Patzelt, 1964; 1996.

Villarrica 1964

Valley of Diuco river after the lahar
(Full picture JPEG: 185K) Valley of Estero Diuco (Diuco torrent) on the day after the March 1964 eruption (probably 2 March 1964), looking upstream. Lahars and hyperconcentrated debris flows have rushed through the valley, stripping away the vegetation. Nearby trees were left standing. Photo Copyright by Erwin Patzelt, 1964; 1996.

Villarrica 1964

Devastation in Coñaripe after the lahars
(Full picture JPEG: 158K) Site of Coñaripe on 2 March 1964, hours after its partial destruction by lahars and hyperconcentrated debris flows. Note broken tree at the very bottom of the photo, lying next to a tree that has previously been cut by humans. Lake Calafquén in the background. Photo Copyright by Erwin Patzelt, 1964; 1996.

Villarrica 1964

Residents of Coñaripe awaiting rescue
(Full picture JPEG: 160K) Devastation in Coñaripe, the morning after the 1-2 March 1964 eruption of Villarrica. The small wooden buildings have been shattered and carried towards Lago Calafquén (right). Surviving residents are moving across the former site of their village, waiting for rescue - all connections with the surrounding world have been interrupted by the effects of the eruption. Photo Copyright by Erwin Patzelt, 1964; 1996.

Coñaripe revisited: photos of a January 1997 visit by Werner Keller
See Villarrica in eruption, 1948-1949, 1971-1972, 1984-1985, and most recently

Page set up on 14 July 1996, last modified on 27 May 1997
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