A Race Against Time: Nevado Ruiz Volcano’s Increased Instability

Written by Nikhitha Kumar

مايو 3, 2023

Safety | Travel

Nevado del Ruiz is a stratovolcano in Colombia, located on the border of the departments of Caldas and Tolima in the Andes Mountain range. One of the most active volcanoes in the country, Nevado Ruiz, has been showing increased seismicity over the past few weeks, and a state of calamity is in place due to its instability. 

The infamous volcano has a long history of eruptions, with the most significant ones occurring in 1985 and 1986. The 1985 eruption produced lahars (mudflows) that killed over 23,000 people in the town of Armero, which was located at the base of the volcano. The disaster later came to be known as the Armero tragedy. The 1986 eruption caused significant damage to the infrastructure in the surrounding areas, including roads, bridges, and buildings.

Nevado Ruiz, a glacier-covered volcano, is particularly dangerous due to its potential for producing lahars. Even a minor eruption would be enough to melt the glacier. When volcanic ash and meltwater combine, they generate mudflows known as lahars, which can travel for miles at high speeds and affect densely populated areas.

Currently, the volcano is on the radar of the Colombian Geological Service due to its unstable state, and a high risk of eruption is imminent in the coming weeks. Since 30 March, an orange alert has been maintained, and evacuations are underway. Tolima, Caldas, Risaralda, Quindio, and Cundinamarca Departments are under alert. The government mandated the use of face masks as ashfall was reported in the municipalities near the volcano on 12 April. 

An order for voluntary evacuation was issued by President Gustavo, but several locals continued to stay in the area, unwilling to abandon their homes, farming lands and livelihoods. According to Tolima’s civil protection unit director, only a small fraction of families has evacuated so far. Despite the Armero tragedy, the locals are refusing to evacuate, as the same volcano erupted in 2012 without causing any fatalities. Although dozens of geologists monitor the volcano on a regular basis, it is difficult to predict whether or not it will erupt, although there are some concerning signs.

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