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Parícutin

"The Corn Field Volcano"

location of Paricutin
location of Paricutin

Between February 12 and 18, 1943, hundreds of minor earthquakes were felt in the vicinity of Parícutin, a town located about 200 miles due west of Mexico City, Mexico. On February 20, Dionisio Polido noticed a column of smoke coming out a 3-inch hole in the corn field he was plowing. He put a big stone over the hole, and, thinking that he had checked the activity, kept on plowing. But looking at the place some time later, he saw the smoke coming out with much greater force. He then recognized that the thing was beyond his powers and hurried to town to tell of this happening. On hearing his story, the Presidente of the town sent out an investigating committee. When this group arrived at the scene some three hours later they found a great hole from which dark smoke was pouring in dense clouds.

a column of black smoke rises out of a hole in a corn field
a column of black smoke rises out of a hole in a corn field

That night the first explosion occured. A week later the explosions were following each other about every four seconds. The material thrown up was ash and cinders. Within the week these substances had built up a cone over 500 feet high; in ten weeks it was over 1,000 feet high.

the cone after ten weeks
the cone after ten weeks

Two days after the first smoke of the volcano was seen, lava appeared in a field about one-fifth of a mile north of the crater. Lava did not appear from the cone itself until four months after the birth of the volcano. Meanwhile, although the explosions were less violent, the diameter of the vent had increased to 150 feet, and enormous volumes of ash were being thrown up. Ash was everywhere; 15 miles away from the cone, it covered the ground 6 to 8 inches deep, 4 miles away, it was 15 inches thick.

lava pouring out of the hole
lava pouring out of the hole

The lava flows from the cone were each preceded by a period of violent explosions and ash expulsions. There followed a short, fairly quiet interval, after which the lava broke through the sides of the cone. In one week, eight flows appeared. It was seen from an airplane, at the time of a flow, that the crater was filled with lava to within 50 feet of its rim. The lava surface was not molten but hardened in large blocks. Another flow, 100 to 150 feet below the rim of the crater, came out red-hot, but cooled while flowing down the side of the cone. A flow from the cone that advanced toward the town of Parícutin moved at the rate of 100 feet an hour. It was reported on July 19, 1944, that Parícutin had been engulfed, that only the roof and towers of the town church were still visible above the lava flood, and that the lava was still moving at the rate of 600 feet a day. Meanwhile another town, Parangaricutiro, about equally distant from the volcano, had been overwhelmed, and three others were threatened.

towers of the Parícutin town church
towers of the town church

At night, eruptions of Parícutin resembled a gigantic fireworks display. The red-hot lava bombs shot up at four-second intervals. As they required some ten to fifteen seconds to descend, new showers were going up while previous ones were coming down. A ring of red always rimmed the top of the cone. The sky above the crater glowed and faded as the power of the explosions varied. Lightning bolts, as many as 30 an hour, flashed and cracked 500 to 1,500 feet in length through the ash cloud.

nightly display from Paricutin
nightly display from Paricutin

The lava flows and smoke clouds subsided in February, 1952. After March, 1952, Parícutin was quiet for many months, without so much as a puff of smoke, and it has not erupted since. No one was killed by lava or ash during the volcano's active period, but three people were killed by lightning associated with the eruption. Today Parícutin stands at exactly 1,345 feet above the ground, and 9,210 feet above sea level.

The eruption of Parícutin marked the first time volcanologists were able to observe the complete life cycle of a volcano, from birth to extinction. Geologists from many parts of the world came to study this extraordinary volcanic event, and the knowledge gained by these scientists greatly expanded our understanding of volcanism in general.

Paricutin in 1994
Paricutin in 1994

SOURCE
Our Wonderful World, An Encyclopedic Anthology for the Entire Family. NewYork: Grolier Incorporated, 1963

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This page was last updated on 02/19/2017.