Little Bits of History

Rockin’ the World

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 19, 2011

Huaynaputina in Peru

February 19, 1600: The most powerful volcanic eruption in South America’s recorded history takes place. Huaynaputina, the Quecha word for “new volcano” is located in Peru in the Andes mountain chain. The mountain measures 15,912 feet in height. The volcano has been dormant since this catastrophic event.

Huaynaputina is a stratovolcano which means that it is a tall, conical volcano formed by layers of lava, tephra, and volcanic ash. These types of volcanoes usually have steep profiles and exhibit periodic, explosive events. The pyroclastic flow, the hot flowing rock, gases, and ash with temperatures in the 100-800º Celsius range, flowed for 8 miles. The lahars or mudflows destroyed villages on its 75 mile march to the Pacific. Ashfall blew as far as 150-300 miles away. It took 150 years for the land to fully recover.

The power or force of a volcano is measured using the Volcanic Explosivity Index [VEI] and this event was a VEI 6. The scale runs from 0-12 and is based on the plume height and volume of ejected effluvium. The most powerful volcanic activity in recorded time is a VEI 7 with the rest having happened hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions of years ago, while the earth was more or less still forming herself. In the last 10,000 years there have been 4 VEI 7 eruptions and 39 VEI 6.

For comparison sake, Krakatau, the famous 1883 eruption, was a VEI 6 while Vesuvius in 79 AD that destroyed Pompeii was a VEI 5. Mount St. Helen in 1980 was also a 5. The scale ranges from “non-explosive” through “ultra-mega-colossal” with plumes reaching more than 15.5 miles [25 km] for the last seven categories. The “ejecta volume” for VEI 5 is 1 square kilometers and 6 is 10 square kilometers with each successive rating increasing by a power of ten. It is expected that a VEI 6 volcano will erupt every 100 years or so. Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, the last VEI 6. The Tambora volcano in 1815 was a VEI 7, a force that is reached about once every 1000 years.

“Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for insects as well as for the stars. Human beings, vegetables or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance.” – Albert Einstein

“You behold a range of exhausted volcanoes.” – Benjamin Disraeli

“This volcano is a sleeper. Most of the time it’s very pleasant, like it is today. The lava just comes out quietly and there’s really no huge hazard associated with it.” – Don Swanson

“I wish I was a volcano to lay on my back all day smoking and have everybody say: Look, he is working!” – Tom Manders

Also on this day:
Cracker Jack – In 1912, Cracker Jack began to include prizes in every box.
Bollingen Prize – In 1949, the first Bollingen Price was awarded.


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