Parícutin (or Volcán de Parícutin, also accented Paricutín) is a dormant scoria-cone volcano located in the Mexican state of Michoacán, near the city of Uruapan and about 322 km west of Mexico City. The volcano surged suddenly from the cornfield of local farmer Dionisio Pulido in 1943, attracting both popular and scientific attention. This eruption presented the first occasion for modern science to document the full life cycle of an eruption of this type. During the 9-year life span of Parícutin, scientists sketched and mapped it, took samples as well as thousands of photographs of this volcano. By 1952, the volcano left a 424 meter high cone and significantly damaged a 233 km2 area with the ejection of stone, ash and lava. Three people were killed, two towns were completely evacuated and buried by lava and three others were heavily affected. Hundreds of people had to be permanently relocated, with two new towns created to accommodate the migration of people. Although the area still remains highly active volcanically, Parícutin itself is quiet and has become a tourist attraction, with people climbing the volcano itself and visiting the hardened-lava covered ruins of the San Juan Parangaricutiro Church. Parícutin is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World as assigned by CNN.
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Parícutin erupted from 1943 to 1952, unusually long for this type of volcano and with several eruptive phases.105 For weeks prior, residents of the area reported hearing noises similar to thunder but without clouds in the sky. This sound is consistent with deep earthquakes from the movement of magma.103 A later study indicates that the eruption was preceded by 21 earthquakes over 3.2 in intensity starting five weeks before the eruption. One week prior to the eruption, newspapers reported 25-30 per day. The day before the eruption, the number is estimated at 300.9
The eruption began on February 20, 1943, at about 4pm. The center of the activity was a cornfield near the town of Parícutin, owned by Dionisio Pulido. During that day, he and his family had been working their land, clearing it to prepare for spring planting.8 Suddenly the ground nearby where they were working swelled upward and formed a fissure between 2 and 2.5 meters across. They report that they heard hissing sounds, and smoke which smelled like rotten eggs, indicating the presence of hydrogen sulfide. Within hours, the fissure would develop into a small crater.103
At 4 p.m., I left my wife to set fire to a pile of branches when I noticed that a crack, which was situated on one of the knolls of my farm, had opened . . . and I saw that it was a kind of fissure that had a depth of only half a meter. I set about to ignite the branches again when I felt a thunder, the trees trembled, and I turned to speak to Paula; and it was then I saw how, in the hole, the ground swelled and raised itself 2 or 2.5 meters high, and a kind of smoke or fine dust -- grey, like ashes -- began to rise up in a portion of the crack that I had not previously seen . . . Immediately more smoke began to rise with a hiss or whistle, loud and continuous; and there was a smell of sulfur.10
He tried to find his family and oxen but they had disappeared so he rode his horse to town where he found his family and friends, happy to see him alive.8 The volcano grew fast and furious after this.3 Witness Celedonio Gutierrez, who witnessed the eruption on the first night reported:
…when night began to fall, we heard noises like the surge of the sea, and red flames of fire rose into the darkened sky, some rising 800 meters or more into the air, that burst like golden marigolds, and a rain like artificial fire fell to the ground.3
On that first day, the volcano had begun strombolian pyroclastic activity and within 24 hours, there was a scorian cone fifty meters high, created by the ejection of lapilli fragments up to the size of a walnut and larger, semi molten volcanic bombs. By the end of the week, reports had the cone between 100 and 150 meters high.1038 Soon after the start, the valley was covered in smoke and ash.3 The nine-year activity of the volcano is divided into four stages with names that comes from the Purépecha language. The first phase (Quitzocho) extended from February 22 to October 18, 1943, with activity concentrated in the cracks that formed in the Cuiyusuro Valley, forming the initial cone. During this time, the ejected material was mostly lapilli and bombs.5 In March, the eruption became more powerful, with eruptive columns that extended for several kilometers.10 In four months, the cone reached 200 meters and in eight months 365 meters.5 During this time period, there was some lava flow. On June 12, lava began to advance towards the village of Paricutin, forcing evacuations the next day.10 The second phase went from October 18, 1943 to January 8, 1944 and is called Sapichi, meaning child, referring to the formation of a lateral vent and other openings on the north side of the cone.57 Ash and bombs continued to be ejected but the new vent sent lava towards the town of San Juan Parangaricutiro, forcing its permanent evacuation. By August, the town was completely covered in lava and ash, with only the upper portions of the main church still visible.105 The evacuations of Parícutin and San Juan were able to be accomplished without loss of life, due to the slow movement of the lava.123 These two phases lasted just over a year and account for more than 90% of the total material ejected from the cone, as well as four-fifths (330 meters) of the final height of 424 meters from the valley floor. It also sent ash as far as Mexico City.38
Cinder cone in 1943
The third (Taqué-Ahuan) extended from January 8, 1944 to January 12, 1945 and focuses on the formation of a series of cracks on the south side of the cone as well as an increase of activity in the center. Lava flows from this time mostly extend to the west and northwest. During this period there was also the formation of a mesa now called Los Hornitos to the south.5
Over the next seven years, the volcano became less active, with the ejection of ash, stone and lava coming sporadically, with periods of silence in-between.1085 Professional geologists pulled out of the area in 1948, leaving only Celedonio Gutierrez to continue observations. The last burst of activity was recorded by him between January and February of 1952. Several eruptions occurred in succession and a three-kilometer smoke column was produced
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