Human Journey

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?

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.

Read All Posts by Kenneth Sims

A Professor at the University of Wyoming and a former tenured Research Scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Dr. Kenneth W.W. Sims uses isotopic and chemical tracers to study geologic processes in the earth and other planetary bodies. Ken has over fifty peer-reviewed scientific publications focusing on the study of mantle melting, oceanic and continental crustal genesis, volcanology, hydrology, planetary core-formation, climate change and oceanography. Dr. Sims earned his BA in Geology from Colorado College, his MSc from the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico; and his PhD in Geochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. Ken’s field experience ranges from ocean floor geology, using submersibles and remote sensing techniques to geological studies of active volcanoes at high altitudes in technical terrain. Academic awards include: the Estwing Outstanding Senior Award at Colorado College, an Outstanding Student Instructor Award from the UC, Berkeley, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Postdoctoral Scholar Fellowship, three Mellon Awards for innovative exploratory research and the Kincaid School 2012 Papadopoulos Fellowship.

In addition to his academic career, Ken is an avid climber and has been an alpine guide for over three decades with extensive experience in technical, high altitude and cold weather mountaineering in Antarctica, the Alaska Range, and the Andes of Peru. These technical climbing skills have enabled him to collect young lavas and gather volcanic gas data inside active, remote volcanoes across the globe, including Erebus Volcano in Antarctica; Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua; and Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo Volcanoes in DR Congo. Using isotopic and geochemical data measured in these hard-to-get-samples Professor Sims’ ultimate goal is to better understand the genesis and evolution of Earth’s volcanoes, with an eye toward predicting future eruptions.

Sims’ research and scientific expeditions have been featured in National Geographic Magazine; Oceanus; Popular Mechanics; New Scientist; several children’s books and magazines; NHK Japanese Public Television (Miracle Continent Antarctica- Mt Erebus), National Geographic Television (Man versus Volcano); and, the Discovery Channel (Against the Elements). Professor Sims is a featured scientist on National Geographic Explorer Site http://www.nationalgeographic.com/explorers/bios/kenneth-sims/
For Professor Sims’ complete Curriculum Vitae, Publication List and Mountaineering Resume see http://geology.uwyo.edu/kenwwsims.

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