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Villarrica in eruption

Lava flow cutting into glacier, Villarrica volcano, November 1984

Villarrica volcano, Chile

volcano number: 1507-12= (according to Volcanoes of the World, 1994 edition)

summit elevation: 2847 m

location: 39.42°S, 71.93°W

Villarrica 1985

View of Villarrica in 1985
(Full picture JPEG: 84K) Full view of Villarrica, taken by Werner Keller in 1985 (during late stage of the 1984-1985 eruption or shortly thereafter). Note absence of snow in the summit area. No direction is indicated but probably the view is from south. Part of the outer caldera rim is visible on the right flank of the cone, just at the base of the snow level.


Villarrica is, along with Llaima, one of Chile's most active volcanoes. While larger eruptions occur about once per decade (most recently in 1984-1985), small-scale persistent activity within the summit crater is much more frequent, and has continued ever since the last lava outflow in the 1984-1985 eruption.

The volcano is situated about 700 km south of the Chilean capital Santiago in a region often described as the "Switzerland of Chile", dotted with lakes and with mountain ranges punctured by volcanic cones, many of them still active. Villarrica, one of Chile's major ski resorts, is easily accessible, and many tourist facilities exist in the neighboring towns of Villarrica, Pucón, Lican Ray and Coñaripe. Two major lakes, Lago Villarrica and Lago Calafquén, lie on the NW and SW sides of the mountain, being fed by several rivers originating from the icecap on the volcano.

Due to its activity and relatively easy accessibility, up to 150 tourists climb the volcano daily during the Austral summer season, many of them being ignorant about the potential danger at the active crater. Fortunately, until now there have been no fatal incidents due to these encounters.

Topographic map

Topographic map of Villarrica
(Full picture JPEG: 375 K!) Topographic map of Villarrica showing main lahar drainages. Map produced by Werner Keller, 1996.

Caldera and summit cone

Villarrica's younger caldera and summit cone
(Full picture JPEG: 53 K) View of Villarrica's complex edifice from SW (?), January 1997. From this side the more recent of Villarrica's two nested calderas is most evident (note break in slope on right flank). This caldera may be associated with an ignimbrite (Pucón Ignimbrite) dated at 3700 years B.P. by Clavero (1997). The volume of this basaltic andesitic ignimbrite is about 5 cubic km.

Glacier on Villarrica

Glacier on Villarrica's SE flank
(Full picture JPEG: 84K) Aerial view of the southeastern flank of Villarrica where the larges volumes of glacial ice are present. Photo taken by Werner Keller in January 1996.

Villarrica is a caldera-stratovolcano complex covering an area of about 100 km^2 and having a volume of about 40 km^3. Its 61 eruptions during recorded history (that is, since the 16th century) make it one of South America's most active volcanoes. About 60% of the volcano's surface are covered with snow and ice, the largest volume of glaciers being present on the southern flank. The volume of the icecap appears to have been stable in the past decade, as evident from comparison of photos taken in 1985 and 1996.

Caldera rim

Rim of outer caldera and recent eccentric cinder cones
(Full picture JPEG: 84K) The larger and older of the two nested calderas present at Villarrica. The scarp is most distinct on the E flank of the volcano as visible in this photo taken by Werner Keller in January 1996. Behind the caldera scarp there is a cluster of presumably Holocene but prehistoric cinder cones aligned along a NE-trending fracture zone.

Prior to the growth of the present summit cone, caldera collapse has occurred at least twice. The scarp of the older and larger caldera is very well visible on the E flank, about 5.5 km from the summit. The younger caldera is most evident when the volcano is viewed from the SW (see photo above). Both caldera collapses appear to be associated with ignimbrite deposits that crop out around the volcano. Two major deposits were identified by Clavero (1997): the Licán Ignimbrite (ca. 13,700 B.P.) with a volume of 10 km^3, and the 3700 B.P. Puc&ocaute;n Ignimbrite which has a volume of 5 km^3. Clavero (1997) mentions that at least 14 eruptions during the past 14,000 years produced pyroclastic flows and surges. Villarrica is thus a potentially highly dangerous volcano.
There are several eccentric cones present on the outer eastern and SE flanks of the volcano. Some of them are still very well preserved indicating relatively recent (although prehistoric) eruptions. All historically recorded eruptions have occurred from the summit crater and vents or fractures near the summit.

Caldera rim

Youthful cinder cone on Villarrica's south flank
(Full picture JPEG: 104K) One of Villarrica's most conspicuous parasitic cones lies just outside the rim of Villarrica I caldera on the south flank of the volcano. This cone is extremely well preserved, implying a fairly recent age of the cone (maximum a few thousand years). Villarrica's largest glacier is visible in the foreground. Photo taken by Werner Keller in January 1996.

Crater of Villarrica, 1996
Crater of Villarrica, January 1996
(Full picture JPEG: 96K) Aerial view into the crater of Villarrica, 15 January 1996, taken by Werner Keller. Note several concentric ledges and fractures and nested pits. Ledges in the gas-filled pit result from growth of intracrateral cones in the early to mid-1990's; they did not exist in the late 1980's when the structure of the pit was much simpler. Note absence of snow near the crater, probably due to minor eruptive activity in late 1995 during the Austral summer season when there was little snowfall.

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Page set up on 6 July 1996, last modified on 27 May 1997