Abstract

Volcán Chaitén (southern Chile, ∼43°S) initiated an historically unprecedented eruption in A.D. 2008, surprising the local inhabitants, Chilean and Argentine authorities, and the geologic community. Available data at the time indicated an absence of explosive eruptions from this rhyolitic volcano since a large-magnitude eruptive event dated at ca. 10,500 yr B.P. We present lake-sediment data from Lago Teo, a small closed-basin lake located in the immediate vicinity of both Chaitén township and the volcano, that spans the past ∼10,000 yr and contains 26 pyroclastic fallout deposits. Glass-shard electron microprobe analyses revealed ten rhyolitic tephras indistinguishable in composition from the 2008 Volcán Chaitén eruption, and ten others potentially derived from the Michinmahuida volcanic complex. Among the rhyolites, we detected three closely spaced tephras deposited between ca. 9460 and 9680 yr B.P., followed by two thick tephras dated at ca. 7700 and ca. 5080 yr B.P. Three other closely spaced tephras occur between ca. 600 and 850 yr B.P., the most recent prehistoric event at ca. 420 yr B.P., and a 3-cm-thick tephra deposited during the 2008 event. We calculate a median recurrence of ∼310 yr between eruptive events from all sources over the past ∼10,000 yr, and ∼200 yr between Volcán Chaitén events over the past millennium. Our results not only challenge the notion of an ∼10,500-yr-long quiescence for Volcán Chaitén activity, but also suggest that the 2008 eruption was an overdue phenomenon in the context of its postglacial eruptive history, illustrating the advantage and absolute necessity of utilizing lake-sediment archives for developing continuous well-dated time series inventories of explosive volcanic events.

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