Cotopaxi remains dangerous although it shows little external activity

Aug 14, 2016

A year after explosions initiated three months of spectacular emissions from Cotopaxi, including dropping heavy ash fall in rural areas west of the mountain, the volcano appears once again to be at rest.

Geologists say don’t be fooled.

Picture taken from Quito of the Cotopaxi volcano spewing ash on August 18, 2015. Nearly 325,000 people could be affected by an eruption of Cotopaxi, the volcano looming beyond the Ecuadoran capital of Quito, officials said Monday. The biggest risk is from an eruption melting the 5,900-metre (19,000-foot) mountain's snowcap and triggering massive melt-water floods and lahar mudflows that could sweep through nearby towns, Ecuador's minister of risk management Maria del Pilar Cornejo told a press conference. AFP PHOTO / RODRIGO BUENDIA  ECUADOR-COTOPAXI-VOLCANO

Cotopaxi a year ago.

“This is still one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world,” says Mario Ruiz, director of Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute. He likened the volcano’s activity to an ice berg. “What you see on the outside is only a small indication of what’s happening inside.”

Ruiz and others have warned Ecuadorians not to let down their guard. “It is true that the activity has subsided but it’s only a small reduction of overall activity,” he says. The Institute has issued a number of advisories in recent months that the volcano could become more active at any moment and said it is concerned that nearby communities have become complacent about the threat.

The volcano is less than 50 south of Qutio, and poses a danger to the city’s eastern suburbs as well as to communities to its west.

About 11,000 years ago, Cotopaxi produced one of the largest eruptions in recent geologic history. Thousands of feet of the volcano were blown away, sending pyroclastic flows 200 miles in all directions. Scientists say that the eruption cooled the world’s temperature by an average of seven degrees centigrade, causing the extinction of a many animal and plant species.

Although an eruption of that scale is unlikely, geologists say that it is not impossible. “The underlying elements of that eruption are still in place,” says to U.S. researcher Elton Morris. “Eleven thousands years is a blink of the eye in terms of geologist. On other hand, those events are very, very rare,” he added.

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