Culture

The first volcano whose birth was contemplated and documented by scientists, in 1943

At 4 in the afternoon, I left my wife to set fire to a pile of branches when I realized that a crack had opened up, located in one of the mounds on my farm… and I saw that it was some kind of fissure with a depth of only half a meter. I started to light the branches again when I heard thunder, the trees trembled and I turned to talk to Paula; and then I saw how in the hole, the ground swelled up and rose 2 or 2.5 meters high, and a kind of smoke or fine dust – gray, like ashes – began to rise in a part of the crack that was not I had seen before… Immediately more smoke began to rise with a loud and continuous hiss; and there was a smell of sulfur.

This is how Dionisio Pulido, a Mexican farmer, described what happened on February 20, 1943 while he was burning bushes in his cornfield with his wife Paula. At that moment he could not have imagined that the crack he was looking at would become, in a matter of hours, a volcano.

Before that and for several weeks many inhabitants of the area had reported noises similar to thunder, strangely without clouds or any trace of storms. Those noises came from deep earthquakes caused by the movement of magma, up to 21 according to later estimates, which moved to the surface with an intensity greater than 3 degrees.

Photo Rolf Cosar on Wikimedia Commons

The day before the eruption, the number of earthquakes rose to more than 300, until at 4 in the afternoon on February 20, 1943, with Pulido and his wife as witnesses, the eruption began, opening a crack in the nearby field. to the town of Paricutín in the state of Michoacán, western Mexico. Within a few hours a small crater had already formed.

After 24 hours the cone was 50 meters high, a week later between 100 and 150, and in eight months it had reached 365 meters. After a year, it registered its final height, 424 meters above the level of the valley (2,800 meters above sea level).

On June 12 of that year, 1943, the town of Paricutín (733 inhabitants) had to be evacuated because the lava flow advanced towards it, completely burying it the next day. On November 6, the town of San Juan de Parangaricutiro was also evacuated, which was left covered in lava and ash from which only the church tower stood out. The 1,895 inhabitants of San Juan, who survived in their entirety, undertook an exodus on foot, covering 33 kilometers to the place where they founded the current Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro, which was established as a municipality in 1950.

The volcano in 1997 / photo Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons

The activity of the volcano lasted 9 years, until 1952, entering a dormant state that continues until today. Today it has become a tourist attraction and excursions are organized to the top of the volcano (whose crater is about 200 meters wide and allows you to walk around its perimeter) and visits to the ruins of San Juan.

The Paricutín is the youngest volcano in America, and its importance lies in the fact that it was the first in history whose life cycle could be fully observed and documented, from its birth, by scientists, which helped to expand our knowledge about the volcanism.

Despite the fact that at the time of the unexpected eruption the world was in the midst of World War II, reporters from all over the world came to cover the event, in the same way that scientists from numerous countries traveled to the place to study it, under the direction of William F. Foshag (of the Smithsonian Institution) and Jenaro González Reyna (of the government of Mexico).

American film shot in 1947 The Castilian Captain, directed by Henry King and starring Tyrone Power and Jean Peters, was shot in the area using the volcano as a backdrop. And, according to what some say, Pulido put up a sign that said Paricutín volcano, property of Dionisio Pulidothus becoming the first person in the world to own a volcano.


Sources

Smithsonian / How volcanoes work / Wikipedia.


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