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Sangay Volcano Erupts in Ecuador

Figure 1: Photo of Sangay erupting in January; taken near Macas Ecuador by Cristian Jara.
Sangay erupts in January; taken near Macas Ecuador. (Photo by Cristian Jara)

This past December, our team trekked up a remote, active volcano in Ecuador known as Sangay, “The Giver.” We collected more than 60 geologic samples from lava flows and rocks all up and down the slopes, which will help us better understand the working of this and other volcanoes around the world.

One month after we departed, Sangay started erupting with ferocity again. This renewed activity, first detected by airline pilots, was captured in photographs from the Macas, Ecuador region and has been imaged by satellite, all seen below.

Figure 2: Photo of Sangay erupting in January; taken near Macas Ecuador by Mauricio Dominguez.
Sangay’s plumes reach high into the atmosphere to catch the last light of the setting sun. (Photo by Mauricio Dominguez)

According to MIROVA (Middle InfarRed Observation of Volcanic Activity), which looks at MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) data aboard the Terra EOM and Agua EOS satellites, since January 15, 2015, there has been detectable thermal activity at the summit of Sangay, with a multitude of thermal alerts with significant radiant heat emitting from its summit region (spanning from 1 to 10 MW). Significantly, at 03:20 (UTC) on Jan 26, 2015, a thermal anomaly of 75 MW was detected by MIROVA. This 75 MW thermal anomaly is the highest detected at Sangay since 2000, with the exception of an alert of 78 MW that occurred on 19 December2006.

 

Figure 3: Captured image of relative heat flow from Sangay volcano over the past month overthe past year, taken from MIROVA (Middle InfarRed Observation of Volcanic Activity; http://www.mirovaweb.it/?action=about), which looks at MODIS (or Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) data (http://modis.gsfc.nasa.gov/about/)  data aboard the Terra EOM (http://terra.nasa.gov) and Agua EOS EOM (http://aqua.nasa.gov) satelliteshttp://www.mirovaweb.it/?action=volcanoDetails&volcano_id=352090.
This captured image shows relative heat flow from Sangay volcano over the past month overthe past year, taken from MIROVA, which looks at MODIS data aboard the Terra EOM and Agua EOS satellites.

In light of this renewed volcanic activity, obvious scientific questions are: What is next for Sangay? Will Sangay continue to erupt? Will it go back to its recent quiescence? Or even will its activity increase as seen in past years when the summit dome was developing?

Figure 4:  Photo of summit dome erupting ca.  20 years ago. This eruptions solidified lavas were collected by our recent expedition to Sangay volcano. Photo taken by Marco Cruz.
Sangay’s summit dome erupted roughly 20 years ago. This eruption’s solidified lavas were collected by our recent expedition. (Photo by Marco Cruz)

These new eruptions also query the superstitious mind: Was Sangay, “The Giver,” being benevolent in December by allowing us to work unfettered and safely on its summit and upper slopes? Or were we just lucky? Who knows? One fact is certain: science is the beneficiary of our successful Sangay Expedition. Thank you again, National Geographic Society, for your continued support.

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