Quito tests warning system as volcanic activity rises

Jan 13, 2023 | 1 comment

Quito’s Security Management Office tested the city’s early warning system Thursday in preparation for a possible eruption of the Cotopaxi volcano. Although officials say a large-scale eruption is unlikely in the near future, they insist that at-risk neighborhoods should be prepared in case one does occur.

The Cotopaxi volcano as it was observed Wednesday from Quito.

Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute reports that activity at the volcano continues to increase as magma under the Cotopaxi crater rises. On Wednesday and Thursday, light ashfall was recorded in several locations to the west of the volcano and geologists say more ashfall should be expected.

Emergency sirens sounded Thursday afternoon in the Los Chillos Valley and Tumbaco, east of Quito, and city emergency personnel met with officials in the Playa Chica, San Gabriel and San Carlos sectors to review evacuation plans.

“We emphasize that our preparation activities are strictly cautionary at this time,” a Security Management spokesman said. “A major eruption is not imminent but we are aware of the upward trends at the volcano and want to be prepared in the event of more dangerous activity.”

According to geologists, the valleys east of Quito are at high risk in the case of a major eruption due to their lower elevation. “This area is in the path of lahars and lava flows based on its terrain,” the Geophysical Institute said Wednesday in a statement. “An eruption of Cotopaxi about 11,000 years ago covered the entire region in several hundred meters of volcanic material.”

A 2016 report by the U.S. Geological Survey listed Cotopaxi as one of the 10 most dangerous volcanoes in the world, noting that an eruption similar to the one 10,000 to 11,000 years ago could kill hundreds of thousands of people. It noted that the magnitude of that eruption cooled the earth by two to three degrees Celsius for several years afterward.

In addition to increased ashfall near the volcano, the Geophysical Institute said Sunday it was observing, for the first time, a “lava glow” at lower levels of the volcano crater. The institute also said there has been an increase in the number of earthquakes near Cotopaxi. “These are indications of a rising level of activity under the mountain and we are monitoring the situation closely,” the Institute said.