by Álvaro Amigo (Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería, SERNAGEOMIN)
Sep 13, 2023
A word from the Head of the National Volcanic Network, Chilean Geological and Mining Service (SERNAGEOMIN)
SERNAGEOMIN is the official, government-based institution that monitors the volcanic activity and conducts volcanic hazard assessment in Chile. Originally, the Southern Andes Volcano Observatory (OVDAS) monitored only a small group of the highest-risk volcanoes back in 1996 and the early 2000s. in 2008, the large and unexpected eruption of the, then unmonitored, Chaitén volcano, in northern Patagonia, forced the evacuation of thousands of people in very difficult logistical conditions. The town of Chaitén was partly destroyed by floods and hyperconcentrated flows. This eruption made clear that the impacts of volcanic activity are far from being restricted to the highest-risk and relatively well-known volcanoes. This nationwide threat prompted the Chilean Government to create a solid program for volcano-monitoring and hazard assessment called Red Nacional de Vigilancia Volcánica (RNVV) that reinforced OVDAS. The original design included the creation of additional volcano observatories, which has yet to be concretized.
Fifteen years later, in 2023, Chile has advanced significatively in the understanding of volcanic activity and their potential impacts on population and infrastructure. Nowadays, a >2,000-km-long Andean arc segment is well covered with a variety of monitoring instruments, and more than 30 volcanoes have hazard maps. In particular, the creation of the RNVV and the strengthening of OVDAS met part of their goals during the timely forecasting of the 2011 Cordón Caulle and the 2015 Villarrica and Calbuco eruptions, issuing a number of alert level bulletins to civil authorities and the general public. No fatalities have been counted due to volcanic processes in Chile in the 21st Century.
While monitoring- and hazard-wise the current situation is promising, more geological and geophysical studies are needed to further the understanding of, for instance, volcano-tectonic interactions, short-term magma migration rates and pathways, smaller-scale eruptive pulses, at-risk elements, etc. A systematic framework to issue early warnings for small, short-notice eruptive events, are imperative due to the impacts of such on tourism. In addition, long-lasting smaller-scale eruptive crises have deteriorated the relationship between state agencies and private operators in Villarica particularly.
We hope the subduction research through SZ4D will help us fill some of the gaps in our current knowledge, strengthening the relationship with the academia, civil authorities, private operators and the general public. A main goal will be the developing of a conceptual framework to start conducting volcanic risk assessments in the country.