Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 68, Issue 4, pp 363–376 | Cite as

Snow-contact volcanic facies and their use in determining past eruptive environments at Nevados de Chillán volcano, Chile

  • K. MeeEmail author
  • H. Tuffen
  • J. S. Gilbert
Research Article


Studies of the eruptive products from volcanoes with variable ice and snow cover and a long history of activity enable reconstruction of erupted palaeoenvironments, as well as highlighting the hazards associated with meltwater production, such as jökulhlaups and magma-water interaction. Existing difficulties include estimation of ice/snow thicknesses and discrimination between ice- and snow-contact lithofacies. We present field evidence from the Cerro Blanco subcomplex of Nevados de Chillán stratovolcano, central Chile, which has erupted numerous times in glacial and non-glacial periods and most recently produced andesitic lava flows in the 1861–1865 eruption from the Santa Gertrudis cone on the northwest flank of the volcano. The main period of lava effusion occurred during the winter of 1861 when the upper flanks of the volcano were reportedly covered in snow and ice. The bases and margins of the first lava flows produced are cut by arcuate fractures, which are interpreted as snow-contact features formed when steam generated from the melting of snow entered tensional fractures at the flow base. In contrast, the interiors and upper parts of these flows, as well as the overlying flow units, have autobrecciated and blocky textures typical of subaerial conditions, due to insulation by the underlying lava. Similar textures found in a lava flow dated at 90.0±0.6 ka that was emplaced on the northwest flank of Cerro Blanco, are also inferred to be ice and snow-contact features. These textures have been used to infer that a small valley glacier, overlain by snow, existed in the Santa Gertrudis Valley at the time of the eruption. Such reconstructions are important for determining the long-term evolution of the volcano as well as assessing future hazards at seasonally snow-covered volcanoes.


Nevados de Chillán Snow-contact Palaeoenvironment reconstruction Hackly jointing Columnar jointing Pseudopillow fractures Santa Gertrudis lava 



This project was supported by a NERC Studentship. We wish to thank J. Naranjo of the Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería, Chile, for his valuable insight in the field and continual suggestions to the project. Many thanks to Malcolm Pringle for 40Ar/39Ar analysis at the Scottish Universities Research Reactor Centre (SURRC), East Kilbride. Thanks to Mike James, Dave McGarvie, Andy Lee and Maialen Galarraga for field assistance and to David Lescinsky, John Smellie and Ian Skilling whose valuable reviews have substantially improved this paper. Finally, many thanks to Lionel Wilson and Dave McGarvie, whose detailed suggestions have been gratefully accepted.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental ScienceLancaster UniversityLancasterUK

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