The socioeconomic consequences of the A.D. 1600 eruption of Huaynaputina, southern Peru

Shanaka De Silva, Jorge Alzueta, Guido Edgard Salas Álvarez

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On February 19, 1600, the largest historic volcanic eruption in South America took place from the volcano Huaynaputina. This volcano is located at 16°35 ′S 70°52 ′W, about 70 km east of the major city of Arequipa, Peru. Clearly, AD 1600 Huaynaputina was a major Plinian eruption that locally devastated the communities within 20 km to the west of the volcano and caused considerable damage to the major cities of Arequipa and Moquegua. The eruption left a fall deposit over an area of at least 300,000 km2 in southern and west-central Peru, western Bolivia, and northern Chile. Lima, La Paz, and Arica are the most notable cities to record ashfall. Most of the fall was distributed to the west and north of the volcano. Pyroclastic flows and secondary mass flows were restricted to local drainages and were insignificant in total volume. A minimum estimate for the volume of tephra is ∼21 km 3, and the magnitude of the eruption is 6 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. Eyewitness and anecdotal accounts of the events provide a colorful history of the eruption and its effects. Definite precursory activity in the form of strong quakes began on February 15 and the eruption began at about 5 p.m. on February 19, 1600. It lasted two weeks, from February 19 to March 5, during which time constant strong earthquakes and intermittent ash and pumice fall tortured the population and wreaked widespread destruction. The chaos and consternation of the populace are vividly described by both ancient and modern historians. Arequipa suffered extensive damage and required considerable diversion of resources and several years to rebuild. Local destruction of communities occurred due to accumulation of thick fall, earthquakes, and by the passage of pyroclastic and secondary mass flows. Ruins reveal the gruesome details of communities engulfed by the eruption products. Deposition of mass flow material also resulted in damming of rivers. Breaching of dams in the Rio Tambo resulted in flooding and transport of communities, livestock, crops, and fish out to the sea. In addition to the human losses, the loss of farmland, vineyards, crops, livestock, and water resources compounded the significant economic burden on this region; the whole socioeconomic infrastructure of a large part of southern Peru was devastated by the eruption. Remarkably, within a few years the recovery was well on its way. Arequipa and Moquegua were rebuilt and operational, and repopulation of the interior was implemented and farming gradually began again. By 1750 fruit and cereal farming was thriving again, but the wine industry never recovered to its former heights. Several far-field effects have been attributed to the AD 1600 Huaynaputina eruption. Of these, the link between eruption and acidity spikes in both Northern and Southern Hemisphere ice cores is coming more into focus. The Huaynaputina eruption should be considered locally devastating and globally significant and is ranked among the major eruptions of historic times.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-24
Number of pages10
JournalSpecial Paper of the Geological Society of America
StatePublished - 2000


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