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Activity is on the rise again at the Cotopaxi volcano; climbers are warned not to go above 5,300 meters due to high sulfur gas levels

Ecuador’s National Polytechnic Institute says that new seismic activity and gas emissions from the massive Cotopaxi volcano are causes for concern. It is a reversal of the institute’s reports over the past two weeks that the level of activity in the volcano was stable.

Gas emissions are visible at Cotopaxi.
Gas emissions are visible at Cotopaxi.

“We still do not believe an eruption is eminent but we are seeing a larger number of earthquakes and increased gas emissions and this is cause for concern,” said Gabriela Ponce, a researcher at the institute said. The increased activity began on Monday and continued Tuesday.

On Tuesday, plumes of gas and vapor rose 500 to 1,000 meters above the volcano and researchers say they are increasing their visits to the mouth of crater to monitor equipment. Monitoring is difficult at Cotopaxi due the mountain’s height, of 6,071 meters, or almost 20,000 feet.

“We are seeing moderate to high seismic activity,” Ponce said. “This does not mean that we are entering an eruptive phase although it means we are maintaining a close watch on the situation,” she added.

There were 107 tremors on Monday as well as increased gas emissions, Ponce said.

The institute says it is staying in close contact with tour guides and tourism officials. Regional Risk Management director Raul Ortiz says that climbers are being advised not to climb beyond 17,390 feet or 5,300 meters, due to the presence of high levels of sulfur gas. Otherwise, Ortiz says that other tourist activity remains normal at Cotopaxi National Park.

Ortiz added: “If the institute gives us information that suggests a greater risk, we are prepared to evacuate the park.”

Oritz also says that towns close to Cotopaxi have been asked to examine their emergency plans in case of an eruption. The regional risk management office plans to erect about 300 signs showing evacuation routes in nearby Latacunga, which has been destroyed three times by eruptions in the last 400 years.