An 18,000 year-long eruptive record from Volcán Chaitén, northwestern Patagonia: Paleoenvironmental and hazard-assessment implications

Brent V. Alloway, Nicholas Pearce, Patricio I. Moreno, Gustavo Villarosa, Ignacio Jara, Ricardo De Pol-Holz

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The 2008 eruption of Volcán Chaitén (VCha) in northwestern Patagonia was the first explosive rhyolitic eruption to have occurred within a century and provided an unprecedented scientific opportunity to examine all facets of the eruption ranging from magma rheology/ascent rates to ash-fall effects on biota and infrastructure. Up to very recently it was thought that the latest eruption prior to the 2008 event occurred c. 9750 cal. a BP. Although a number of researchers have recognised additional eruptive products, but their stratigraphy, age, and geochemical attributes have not been systematically described and/or recorded. In this study, we provide a detailed examination of andic cover-beds and tephra-bearing lake sequences located both proximally and distally to VCha, which record a series of hitherto unknown rhyolitic eruptive products and place all previous observations firmly within a coherent stratigraphic framework. Through major- and trace-element glass shard geochemistry we are able to confidently verify eruptive source. A total of 20 discrete tephra beds are recognised, with at least 10 having widespread areal distributions and/or depositional imprints broadly comparable to, or greater than, the 2008-tephra event. This record indicates that VCha has been continuously but intermittently active as far back as the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (c. 18,000 cal a BP) with two dominant, genetically related magma types and an intermediary ‘mixed’ type. Before this the eruptive record has been largely obscured and/or erased by widespread Andean piedmont glaciation. However, based on the tempo of VCha activity over the last c. 18,000 years, older VCha eruptives can be anticipated to occur as well as future hazardous explosive events. The new eruptive inventory will ultimately be useful for correlating equivalent-aged sequences and refining long-term eruptive tempo as well as corresponding temporal changes in magmatic evolution
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-181
Number of pages31
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Early online date24 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2017


  • northwestern Patagonia
  • tephrostratigraphy
  • Volcán Chaitén
  • Volcán Michimahuida
  • Cha-1


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