USGS/Cascades Volcano Observatory, Vancouver, Washington
South America Volcanoes and Volcanics
Map, South America and Plate Tectonics
Simkin & Siebert, 1994,
Volcanoes of the World:
Smithsonian Institution and Geoscience Press, Inc., 349p.
South America spans the greatest length of any continental
of the eastern Pacific's Nazca Plate
beneath South America has produced one of the Earth's highest mountain ranges,
and its highest volcano Nevados Ojos del Salado (Argentina).
Three distinct volcanic belts are separated by volcanically inactive gaps,
where subduction is at such a shallow angle that magma is not generated by the
South America leads all other regions in population of volcanoes, with 204; it
has the largest number of undated
volcanoes (112) and is second only to
in the number of volcanoes with dated eruptions. The human population,
however, totals less than 90 million, or approximately that of Mexico.
Colombia accounts for 37 percent of the population and Argentina
for 37 percent of the land area. Chile
has the region's largest number of historically active volcanoes,
with 36 (ranking
it 5th among nations, behind Russia's 52 and ahead of Iceland's 18).
the region's smallest in terms of population and area, is next with 16.
When South America was discovered by Columbus, on his 3rd voyage in
1498, the Inca civilization was large and highly developed, but no records
survive of the Andean volcanism that they no doubt witnessed. In 1524,
Pizarro started his first voyage along the Pacific coast and within 10 years
Atahualpa was executed and the Inca conquered by Spain. Travel overland was
slow and difficult, so the Spaniards sailed south, launching the exploration of
the Andes from Peru and what is now Ecuador.
A result of this pattern is that
27 16th century eruptions are known from Peru northward, while 3 are known
south of Peru (and only 8 more in the 17th century). In southern
Chile, where the population is sparse and the mountains remote, only 2
(of 24) volcanoes have recorded eruptions before the early 1800s.
The region's first historically documented eruption was at El Misti
(Peru), sometime between 1438 and 1471, and the next two were from
mainland Ecuador in the early 1530s. The Galapagos Islands were
discovered in 1535, but their early visitors were largely pirates, and they
were still uninhabited when the first scientific mission arrived in 1790. The
first eruption was recorded near the end of that century and the first
resident settled in 1807. The Chilean Islands were discovered by Juan
Fernandez in 1574, but no eruptions were recorded by their only resident,
Robinson Crusoe, during his 1704-09 visit: it remained for Charles Darwin to
document the first (and only) certain eruption there in 1835.
South America is dominated by large, often glacier-clad
(122, more than any other region), and matches Japan in
having the most documented
VEI greater-than-or-equal-to 4 eruptions in the
past 200 years. It has had 15 percent of the world's
eruptions, including the tragic one at
Colombia's Ruiz volcano in 1985. ...
[South America Volcanoes and Volcanics Menu] ...
[Chile Volcanoes and Volcanics Menu] ...
[Colombia Volcanoes and Volcanics Menu] ...
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02/28/02, Lyn Topinka