Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Swiss tourist killed while climbing Ecuadorian volcano.

A 57-year-old Swiss woman has died after falling into a crevasse on Mount Cotopaxi in Ecuador on Sunday 3 November 2019. Two other climbers who also fell into the crevasse were injured, with one of them needing to be airlifted to Quito for hospital treatment. Cotopaxi is the second highest mountain in Ecuador, and has a reputation for being the world's highest active volcano, though this is inaccurate. It is a symmetrical cone-shaped volcano (stratovolcano) rising 3800 m above the highland plains on which it sits, for a total height of 5897 m. The volcano last erupted in 1942, though between 1738 and 1942 their were frequent eruptions, and the volcano is still considered a hazard to local populations. There have been occasional bouts of seismic activity (earth tremors) and fumarole (gas) emissions within the last decade. Cotopaxi has been popular with climbers since the nineteenth century, and is often crowded, with over 100 people on the mountain at a time. A Canadian tourist was killed on the mountain in June 2012.

Cotopaxi Volcano. Gerard Prins/Wikimedia Commons.

Like all South American volcanoes Cotopaxi owes its existence to the subduction of the Nazca Plate (which underlies the southeast Pacific) beneath South America. The Nazca Plate is being pushed from the east and forced down into the Earth's interior beneath South America. As it sinks rocks in the crust melt, and the lighter portions of it rise up through the overlying South American Plate to form volcanoes at the surface. These are dotted throughout the Andes Mountains; a range of mountains that is formed by a mixture of volcanism and crumpling of the South American Plate where is is forced against the Nazca Plate.

 The subduction of the Nazca Plate beneath the South American Plate. Marot et al. (2012).

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