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The role of dyking and fault control in the rapid onset of eruption at Chaitén volcano, Chile


Rhyolite is the most viscous of liquid magmas, so it was surprising that on 2 May 2008 at Chaitén Volcano, located in Chile’s southern Andean volcanic zone, rhyolitic magma migrated from more than 5 km depth in less than 4 hours (ref. 1) and erupted explosively with only two days of detected precursory seismic activity2. The last major rhyolite eruption before that at Chaitén was the largest volcanic eruption in the twentieth century, at Novarupta volcano, Alaska, in 1912. Because of the historically rare and explosive nature of rhyolite eruptions and because of the surprisingly short warning before the eruption of the Chaitén volcano, any information about the workings of the magmatic system at Chaitén, and rhyolitic systems in general, is important from both the scientific and hazard perspectives. Here we present surface deformation data related to the Chaitén eruption based on radar interferometry observations from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) DAICHI (ALOS) satellite. The data on this explosive rhyolite eruption indicate that the rapid ascent of rhyolite occurred through dyking and that melt segregation and magma storage were controlled by existing faults.

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Figure 1: Tectonic setting for Chaitén Volcano and ALOS/PALSAR interferograms from two ascending image pairs and one descending pair.
Figure 2: Two deformation models that can be considered as near endmembers in a family of ‘best-fit’ models.
Figure 3: Schematic interpretation of the involvement of deformation sources in the 2 May 2008 eruption of Chaitén.

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We thank D. Dzurisin, Z. Lu and W. Thatcher for providing helpful comments on the manuscript. All ALOS/PALSAR data are copyright JAXA and the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (2008, 2009, 2010) and were provided by the Alaska Satellite Facility. The data were made available through JAXA project PI059 and the US Government Sponsored Research Consortium data pool supported by NASA, the National Science Foundation and the US Geological Survey.

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C.W. coordinated the research and writing of the paper. All authors contributed to the interpretation of results and writing of the paper.

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Correspondence to Charles Wicks.

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Wicks, C., de la Llera, J., Lara, L. et al. The role of dyking and fault control in the rapid onset of eruption at Chaitén volcano, Chile. Nature 478, 374–377 (2011).

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