Volcanic eruption in Ecuador

February 2, 2014 • 6:43 am

Reader Lou Jost, a biologist who works and lives in Ecuador, sent me a note with some pictures of a huge volcanic eruption that’s occurred near his home. The eruption of Tungurahua is reported at Wired, but Lou sent pictures he took himself, a brief report, and the link to a YouTube video (below). Lou’s comments are indented:

A terrifying sunset yesterday due to a huge earth-shaking eruption of my volcano, Tungurahua. It filled the sky above me. I never saw an eruption this big before. From here in my yard, at 2100m on the volcano itself, it was hard to grasp the size of the ash cloud; it went up 47000 ft! Sulfur dioxide gas made parts of the cloud turn yellow-orange, coupled with pinks from the sunset and gray-black from the dense ash. It looked like a Hollywood movie. I kept expecting Charlton Heston to walk down from the mountain in front of me. I’m so glad I got back from Wisconsin yesterday, just in time to see this. The attached night picture is taken from inside my house near my desk, through a skylight I designed so that I could see the volcano above me.





A shaky video made by a kid in a city maybe 50km from the volcano, with cute narration:

I don’t speak Spanish, so perhaps a reader can produce a brief translation.

When you see stuff like this, you realize that although humans can do a lot of bad things to this planet, the planet can also do things over which we have no control.

55 thoughts on “Volcanic eruption in Ecuador

    1. Thanks Dennis. Of all the places around here, I think I am in one of the safest, even though I am only 5 miles from the crater and I can hear the giant rocks crashing down on the flanks. When I dug my foundation I found Inca potsherds at a certain level, and pre-Inca sherds deeper, and in none of those layers were there any big volcanic rocks. Just layers of small pumice stones. So for at least the last 500 yrs my ridge has been safe (unlike the valleys below me or the flanks to the west). For a scientist who lives on probabilities, that’s good enough.

      1. What an interesting place to live! You found potsherds when you dug your foundations?! I’m jealous. I just found clay whenever I’ve dug stuff here but as a kid when I lived where there was a lot of sand stone, I regularly found fossils (even old Silurian ones). Once I even found a trilobite fossil (which my dad lost).

        1. Once I even found a trilobite fossil (which my dad lost).

          Don’t feel to bad about it – in 30 years as a geology student and geologist, I’ve only found one trilobite fossil too. And that was on an outcrop in an “SSSI” (Site of Special Scientific Interest), meaning “No hammers. Or chisels and loose stones I’m-looking-at-you-,-Karley!”
          )Even without sour grapes, it wasn’t a terribly good fossil anyway – all the best ones had been hammered away decades before I arrived.
          On the other hand, I was walking one day and decided to turn over a few dull slabs of stone in the moorland mud. First lump – sandstone with 15cm plant fossils. Second lump – siltstone with a 30cm meandering trail of trilobite footprints (Cruziana – probably an infaunal feeding trace). More lumps, more fossils – I had to ration myself!
          Keep looking! Your favourite fossil is out there somewhere!

            1. Ahhh, crinoidal limestone!
              The Visigoths (Vandals get an undeservedly bad name!) who owned my parents house before us had painted over polished crinoidal limestone fireplaces in each of the first-floor bedrooms.
              I spent over a decade going to sleep to the sight of crinoid ossicles. It may explain something.

              1. No to the human or mammalian remains.
                But why do you think that there is inherently a problem about finding crinoids and humans intermingled in a fossil context? Crinoids are nowhere near as common as they used to be, but they’re still around. (Not, I’ll grant, the same species, or even genera as in the fireplace surrounds.)

      2. You might not be in danger of ash fallout, but there’s lots of other nasty stuff that can come out of a volcano, including carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide plumes. Plus, should it blow its top like Mt. St. Helens did when I was a boy, the very ground you’re standing on will be gone. Or, there could be a pyroclastic flow, or simple weathering of the volcano since the last eruption could redirect shit your way.

        If you’ve got a clear path to exit, you might want to take it now and leave some monitoring equipment behind….


        1. Actually an earlier version of the volcano (Tungurahua II to geologists) had a sector collapse 3000 yrs ago, when it was much bigger than it is now, at an age of roughly 75000yrs . The current version, Tungurahua III, is a youngster. I think the odds are in my favor. I can’t leave anyway, I have too much work to do.

          We do get ash falls now and then, and light rains of small pumice stones, but most of the things you mentioned would just go around my knife-edge ridge. The valleys below me, on the other hand, have often been fried. Some of them got trashed yesterday, in fact.

          The one thing I worry about is a large flying rock bomb. I can see them flying through the air, the size of houses, but they don’t go very far. I found some old bombs about a foot in diameter more than 10 miles from the crater, though, so it has flung some long-distance missiles. None have landed in my yard in the last 500 yrs though

  1. Translation: Sounds like a kid narrating that the volcano has erupted, saying continously that the cloud seems to be growing slowly more and more.
    Thay also seem to complain about “no more baths” (maybe because of hot springs?) and they also wonder about people who were in the “baths”.
    He also mentions that a rock seemes to have fallen nearby, and also if the eruption might be visible from Quito.

    1. The town where I live, at the base of the volcano, is names “Banos”. As you said, it is named after the hot springs that come out of the volcano. So the kid is worried about the town. He says “Adios, Banos” thinking that the town was destroyed. Then he says sadly “I had wanted to visit Banos….” and he says “Frito…” (Banos has been fried”)
      Then he gets worried that the cloud is growing and may reach them.

  2. Some other bits include the kid saying “goodbye Baños”. This seems to be the name of a town near the volcano. And when someone says “how awful” the kid replies “worse for those in Baños”. He also exclaims “This will be seen in Quito!”.

  3. The child in the video says that the cloud is immense and very tall and is amazed that he can see it growing moment by moment. He says it’s frightening but you can clearly sense he’s still enjoying the experience. He then said he had planned to go to the city of Baños, which is closer to the volcano, and he realizes he won’t be able to go now. He wonders about that city and says its people are doomed. He also wonders if they can see the cloud from Quito, the capital of Ecuador.
    I expected to hear some kind of plea to god but was very happy there was none. Actually, only a reference to the devil is made: “Is it coming this way or what the demon?”

      1. I must disagree with your take that “adios” should be construed as a reference to god. Yes, the etymology of the word reflects the link, but this word is used universally in a totally secular way and has been so for centuries. It just means “good bye”. A similar case would be “ojalá” which is an interjection used by all Spanish speaking people meaning “I hope that” and hardly anyone knows it’s true origin or meaning: it means “May Allah wish”, a vestige of 4 centuries of arabic domination in Spain, and it is now used in totally secular way.
        Anyhow, I like this kid. He shows a very healty and positive attitude facing the danger of a natural disaster and he doesn’t resort to superstition to explain or to confront it. I think one day he may well be one of us. Bien guacho!

        1. It just means good bye.

          And the English etymologists, amateur or otherwise, will similarly know that, “good bye,” is itself a contraction of, “God be with ye.” The parallel with, “adios,” is nearly perfect in every respect.



        2. Same as the French “adieu” – which is also used in English but not so frequently:

          exclamation: adieu


          noun: adieu; plural noun: adieux; plural noun: adieus

          a goodbye.
          “he whispered a fond adieu”

          [Middle English, from Old French a dieu, (I commend you) to God : a, to (from Latin ad; see ad-) + Dieu, God (from Latin deus; see dyeu- in Indo-European roots).]

  4. Thank ALL for your translations !

    Allya’all know, o’course, exactly ( and particularly THIS specific month ) WHO is accountable for this blast an’, cuz o’ it, has heLL to pay, not ? !

    Mr D ! of Darwin’s Day: Ecuador, lovely as it is ( and hiking near the equator up inside the Andean Mountains right within cloud mists and juxtaposed to volcanos such as Tungurahua –– is, indeed, soooo glorious ! ), is / has the governance over … … Charlie’s Galápagan playground –– its Archipiélago Islas. ‘Bout 600 or so miles west o’ here.

    So, cuz o’ that, well, ya’ know: those cleverest of gods ‘re just not only crazed but, too, –– fore’ermore –– frickin’ pissed. And hafta let us mortals, from time to time, ‘member this !


    1. Brilliant theory! But what if… it’s the spirit of Don Carlos (as he was called by the gauchos) trying to tell us something? Could it be that Carlitos Darwin is in hell and telling us he was wrong and to repent and accept Cheesus in our hearts? I still say we eat more babies juest to be on the safe side.

      1. re “ on the safe side “ — That, too, is brilliant, Sir.

        Cuz: idn’t that what all religionists with their “ faithinesses ” are actually doing ? Puttin’ themselves on to / over “ to where ” other, say more hierarchal, religionists ( imams, priests, gurus, magicians, preachers, shamans ) demand of them ?

        Soooo as once a truckstop – diner waitress ( as Louise Sawyer o’ Thelma and Louise – infamy ) right alongside our nation’s Interstate – 80 and who actually very much loved serving others as one there in ‘Murica’s Heartland: will you be having a side o’ cheese on ’em ? ya’ know, > cheesuses with yer main course: babies’ hearts ? !


    1. Lou is like Pliny the Younger!

      … who was the one that survived the 79 CE eruption of Vesuvius to die around 110 CE after a career in law and bureaucracy.
      It was his uncle, Pliny the Elder, who got a bit too enthusiastic and went off from Misenum to observe the phenomenal He told Pliny (the Younger) to get back to his homework of reading Livy or Catullus or something. It was only while Pliny was preparing to launch that he recieved a call for rescue from friend nearer Vesuvius.
      Brave thing to do, but not the best of judgement calls.

        1. I have an unhealthy image of Paris the Younger being responsible for documenting the life of Paris (Hilton) the Elder …

            1. We do indeed. What he thinks about being, errr, the meat in a sandwich between Paris the Senior and Paris the Junior … we await enlightenment.

  5. Thanks for the post. I live in Cuenca and wondered where the dust came from, now I know, it is not dust but ash. We are a couple hundred mils south.

  6. Impressive photos, thanks Lou.

    Back in the late seventies my mother, my son and I climbed up to the edge of the Vesuvius crater. A risky climb as the ground is unstable and loose. At the edge, looking down into the crater and seeing all the fumaroles (they smelled of sulphur), one could distinctly sense that this is not an extinct volcano but a sleeping giant that can violently wake up at any time. Looking down from there and seeing all the vast and tightly built-up area surrounding Vesuvius and hugging it, including Naples itself, one can only feel that when that giant explodes again, there will be millions of deaths.

    My other volcanic experience, in the Bay of Naples, was on Ischia which too is of volcanic origin and dotted with fumaroles – in some places, in the sea, there are some areas where the water is hot to very hot, due to heat seeping up from below. The island is also dotted with spas where one can get hot volcanic and apparently slightly radioactive mud spread onto one’s body or limbs. They have a curative effect for various conditions such as osteoarthritis, and there are steam contraptions for breathing which have curative effects on ailing lungs, and waters to drink that are good against all manner of ailments – all of these from volcanic sources, so Ischia is a sleeping midget (compared to the giant Vesuvius).

      1. Absolutely not. It has nothing to do with suggestion or faith. Treatments in the spas are done only with doctors’ prescriptions, and are largely reimbursed by health insurances.

          1. These fango (mud) treatments made a huge difference for me and my generalized osteoarthritis and lumbar damage, they made the difference between limping painfully with canes and walking, dancing and running normally. The inhalation treatments also substantially diminished my bouts of acute sinusitis and bronchitis, basically leaving me free of them for years.

    1. My reading material at the moment includes “Volcanoes of Southern Italy”, because we’re planning a trip there. Before (I hope) Naples gets wiped out.
      Naples is a good candidate for the first megadeath from a volcanic eruptions direct effects. (There have probably been megadeath events from distal effects – Laki, for an example.)

  7. I visited Baños a few years ago. The town is wedge between two mountain cliffs. Only one way in/out. Any significant flows from Tungurahua, to the north, would be catastrophic.
    Translation attached. I hope it helps.

    Here with the volcano (Tungurahua) erupted ,
    An enormous cloud.. It keeps growing.
    If you do not see it, it is growing bit by bit.
    And it is growing more, right ?
    Here an enormous cloud.
    It is enormous. If you can see it, it is growing ! Wow !
    It is very high.
    (in the background). Good Bye Baños (a small tourist town north of the
    volcano wedge between two mountain, if lava flows in that direction,
    it would catastrophic).
    Good Bye Baños. I wanted to go to Baños.
    It is very high.
    Would it come this way ?
    ..uuuy ! it is scary. !
    (giggles.. in the background) It is huge !
    ..And it keeps growing.
    ..uuuy.. Good Bye Baños, I wanted to go to Baños.
    ..the people in Baños are in big trouble…
    ..it is still growing even bigger.
    (in the background) it is getting bigger…
    it exploded.
    Would this be visible from Quito (Ecuador’s capital, north of the volcano).

  8. Hi
    We are coming to Banos within a week. We are driving our own car and my husband is concerned that there might be a lot of ash present on the roads and surroundings that could possible be hard on our car.
    It is difficult to find anything on the news about whether it is a safe idea to travel to Banos at this time.
    Would you mind giving me any information that you can on the situation and whether you would advise we visit Banos? We would be there 10 days.
    Thank you

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