Long-range volcanic ash transport and fallout during the 2008 eruption of Chaitén volcano, Chile

Document Type


Publication Date



The May 2008 eruption of Chaitén volcano, Chile, provided a rare opportunity to measure the long-range transport of volcanic emissions and characteristics of a widely-dispersed terrestrial ash deposit. Airborne ash mass, quantified using thermal infrared satellite remote sensing, ranged between 0.2 and 0.4 Tg during the period 3–7 May 2008. A high level of spatiotemporal correspondence was observed between cloud trajectories and changes in surface reflectivity, which was inferred to indicate ash deposition. The evolution of the deposit was mapped for the first time using satellite-based observations of surface reflectivity.

The distal (>80 km) ash deposit was poorly sorted and fine grained, and mean particle size varied very little beyond a distance >300 km. There were three particle size subpopulations in fallout at distances >300 km which mirror those identified in fallout from the 18 May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, known to have a high propensity for aggregation. Discrete temporal sampling and characterisation of fallout demonstrated contributions from specific eruptive phases. Samples collected at the time of deposition were compared to bulk samples collected months after deposition and provided some evidence for winnowing.

Experimentally-derived ash leachates had near-neutral pH values and charge balance which indicates minimal quantities of adsorbed acids. X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) analyses revealed surface enrichments in Ca, Na and Fe and the presence of coatings of mixed Ca-, Na- and Fe-rich salts on ash particles prior to deposition. Low S:Cl ratios in leachates indicate that the eruption had a low S content, and high Cl:F ratios imply gas–ash interaction within a Cl-rich environment. We estimate that ash fallout had potential to scavenge ∼42% of total S released into the atmosphere prior to deposition. XPS analyses also revealed ash particle surfaces were strongly enriched in Fe (in contrast to the results from bulk leachate analyses), which suggests that Chaitén ash fallout over oceans had potential to influence productivity in high-nutrient, low-chlorophyl regions of the oceans. Therefore ash particle surface geochemical analysis should be applied to quantify Fe-modulated biologically-forced CO2 draw-down potential of volcanic ash fallout over oceans.

Publisher's Statement

© 2011 Elsevier Ltd. Publisher's version of record: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pce.2011.09.004

Publication Title

Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, Parts A/B/C