Tata Sabaya

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Tata Sabaya
ISS-35 Tata Sabaya Volcano.jpg
Highest point
Elevation 5,430 m (17,810 ft) [1]
Coordinates Coordinates: 19°08′S68°32′W / 19.133°S 68.533°W / -19.133; -68.533 [2]
Bolivia physical map.svg
Red triangle with thick white border.svg
Tata Sabaya

Tata Sabaya is a 5,430-metre (17,810 ft) high volcano in Bolivia. It is part of the Central Volcanic Zone, one of several volcanic belts in the Andes which are separated by gaps without volcanic activity. This section of the Andes was volcanically active since the Jurassic, with an episode of strong ignimbritic volcanism occurring during the Miocene. Tata Sabaya lies in a thinly populated region north of the Salar de Coipasa salt pan.

Volcano A rupture in the crust of a planetary-mass object that allows hot lava, volcanic ash, and gases to escape from a magma chamber below the surface

A volcano is a rupture in the crust of a planetary-mass object, such as Earth, that allows hot lava, volcanic ash, and gases to escape from a magma chamber below the surface.

Bolivia Country in South America

Bolivia, officially the Plurinational State of Bolivia, is a landlocked country located in western-central South America. The capital is Sucre, while the seat of government and financial center is located in La Paz. The largest city and principal industrial center is Santa Cruz de la Sierra, located on the Llanos Orientales, a mostly flat region in the east of the country.

Andean Volcanic Belt Volcanic belt in South America

The Andean Volcanic Belt is a major volcanic belt along the Andean cordillera in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. It is formed as a result of subduction of the Nazca Plate and Antarctic Plate underneath the South American Plate. The belt is subdivided into four main volcanic zones that are separated from each other by volcanic gaps. The volcanoes of the belt are diverse in terms of activity style, products, and morphology. While some differences can be explained by which volcanic zone a volcano belongs to, there are significant differences within volcanic zones and even between neighboring volcanoes. Despite being a type location for calc-alkalic and subduction volcanism, the Andean Volcanic Belt has a broad range of volcano-tectonic settings, as it is a rift systems and extensional zones, transpressional faults, subduction of mid-ocean ridges and seamount chains apart from a large range on crustal thicknesses and magma ascent paths, and different amount of crustal assimilations.


Volcanic activity at Tata Sabaya and elsewhere in the Central Volcanic Zone is the consequence of the subduction of the Nazca Plate beneath the South America Plate. The volcano has developed along a lineament that separates older crust north of the lineament from younger crust in the south, and the edifice has been formed by andesitic rocks.

Subduction A geological process at convergent tectonic plate boundaries where one plate moves under the other

Subduction is a geological process that takes place at convergent boundaries of tectonic plates where one plate moves under another and is forced to sink due to gravity into the mantle. Regions where this process occurs are known as subduction zones. Rates of subduction are typically in centimeters per year, with the average rate of convergence being approximately two to eight centimeters per year along most plate boundaries.

Nazca Plate Oceanic tectonic plate in the eastern Pacific Ocean basin

The Nazca Plate, named after the Nazca region of southern Peru, is an oceanic tectonic plate in the eastern Pacific Ocean basin off the west coast of South America. The ongoing subduction, along the Peru–Chile Trench, of the Nazca Plate under the South American Plate is largely responsible for the Andean orogeny. The Nazca Plate is bounded on the west by the Pacific Plate and to the south by the Antarctic Plate through the East Pacific Rise and the Chile Rise respectively. The movement of the Nazca Plate over several hotspots has created some volcanic islands as well as east-west running seamount chains that subduct under South America. Nazca is a relatively young plate both in terms of the age of its rocks and its existence as an independent plate having been formed from the break-up of the Farallon Plate about 23 million years ago. The oldest rocks of the plate are about 50 million years old.

South American Plate A major tectonic plate which includes most of South America and a large part of the south Atlantic

The South American Plate is a major tectonic plate which includes the continent of South America as well as a sizable region of the Atlantic Ocean seabed extending eastward to the African Plate, with which it forms the southern part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The southern flank of Tata Sabaya failed during the latest Pleistocene about 12,000 - 12,360 years before present. Debris from the collapse entered a lake that covered the Salar de Coipasa at that time and formed a deposit with a volume of 6 ± 1 cubic kilometre (1.44 ± 0.24 cu mi). Subsequently, the collapse scar was partly filled in with more recent lava flows and lava domes; one eruption occurred about 6,000 years before present.

A sector collapse is the collapse of a portion of a volcano due to a phreatic eruption, an earthquake, or the intervention of new magma. Occurring on many volcanoes, sector collapses are generally one of the most hazardous volcanic events, and will often create lateral blasts.

The Pleistocene is the geological epoch which lasted from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the world's most recent period of repeated glaciations. The end of the Pleistocene corresponds with the end of the last glacial period and also with the end of the Paleolithic age used in archaeology.

Lava dome Roughly circular protrusion from slowly extruded viscous volcanic lava

In volcanology, a lava dome or volcanic dome is a roughly circular mound-shaped protrusion resulting from the slow extrusion of viscous lava from a volcano. Dome-building eruptions are common, particularly in convergent plate boundary settings. Around 6% of eruptions on earth are lava dome forming. The geochemistry of lava domes can vary from basalt to rhyolite although the majority are of intermediate composition The characteristic dome shape is attributed to high viscosity that prevents the lava from flowing very far. This high viscosity can be obtained in two ways: by high levels of silica in the magma, or by degassing of fluid magma. Since viscous basaltic and andesitic domes weather fast and easily break apart by further input of fluid lava, most of the preserved domes have high silica content and consist of rhyolite or dacite.

Geography and geomorphology

Tata Sabaya lies just north of the Salar de Coipasa in Bolivia. The small village of Pagador lies west-southwest of the volcano, [3] but the whole region is overall thinly inhabited. [4] The name means "Father Sabaya"; the term "Sabaya" may be the Aymara corruption of the Quechua term for "devil", "demon". [5] The volcano is a topic in local myths, where it is sometimes personified. [6]

Aymara language native language in South America

Aymara is an Aymaran language spoken by the Aymara people of the Andes. It is one of only a handful of Native American languages with over one million speakers. Aymara, along with Spanish, is an official language of Bolivia. It is also spoken, to a much lesser extent, by some communities in southern Peru and in northern Chile, where it is a recognized minority language.

Quechuan languages Language family spoken primarily in the Andes region of South America

Quechua, usually called Runasimi in Quechuan languages, is an indigenous language family spoken by the Quechua peoples, primarily living in the Peruvian Andes and highlands of South America. Derived from a common ancestral language, it is the most widely spoken language family of indigenous peoples of the Americas, with a total of probably some 8–10 million speakers. Approximately 25% of Peruvians speak a Quechuan language. It is perhaps most widely known for being the main language family of the Inca Empire. The Spanish colonisers initially encouraged its use, but from the middle of their reign they suppressed it. However, Quechua ultimately survived and variants are still widely spoken today.

Tata Sabaya is part of the Central Volcanic Zone of the Andes, [7] which consists of a volcanic arc that mainly follows the Western Cordillera. There are about 44 Holocene volcanoes, however the remoteness of the region and dry climate has restricted scientific research of these volcanoes; among the better known are Lastarria, the Nevados de Payachata, Ollagüe, San Pablo, San Pedro and Socompa. [2]

Volcanic arc A chain of volcanoes formed above a subducting plate

A volcanic arc is a chain of volcanoes formed above a subducting plate, positioned in an arc shape as seen from above. Offshore volcanoes form islands, resulting in a volcanic island arc. Generally, volcanic arcs result from the subduction of an oceanic tectonic plate under another tectonic plate, and often parallel an oceanic trench. The oceanic plate is saturated with water, and volatiles such as water drastically lower the melting point of the mantle. As the oceanic plate is subducted, it is subjected to greater and greater pressures with increasing depth. This pressure squeezes water out of the plate and introduces it to the mantle. Here the mantle melts and forms magma at depth under the overriding plate. The magma ascends to form an arc of volcanoes parallel to the subduction zone.

Holocene The current geological epoch, covering the last 11,700 years

The Holocene is the current geological epoch. It began approximately 11,650 cal years before present, after the last glacial period, which concluded with the Holocene glacial retreat. The Holocene and the preceding Pleistocene together form the Quaternary period. The Holocene has been identified with the current warm period, known as MIS 1. It is considered by some to be an interglacial period within the Pleistocene Epoch.

Lastarria Volcano on the border between Chile and Argentina

Lastarria is a stratovolcano that lies on the border between Chile and Argentina. It is part of the Central Volcanic Zone, one of the four segments of the volcanic arc of the Andes. Several volcanoes are located in this chain of volcanoes, which is formed by subduction of the Nazca Plate beneath the South American Plate.

Tata Sabaya is a volcano which reaches a height of 5,430 metres (17,810 ft). [1] [8] Five lava flows extend north from the summit and display levees and flow fronts, the flows reaching a maximum length of 2 kilometres (1.2 mi). The top of these flows is cut by a collapse scar that extends east and west of the edifice in the form of scarps up to 50 metres (160 ft) high. [9] The space between the scarps is in turn filled by more recent lava flows with a blocky appearance. [10] Farther away of the edifice, the scarp is more noticeable and reaches a height of about 200 metres (660 ft) on the southeastern side of the volcano. [8]

Escarpment Steep slope or cliff separating two relatively level regions

An escarpment, or scarp, is a steep slope or long cliff that forms as a result of faulting or erosion and separates two relatively level areas having different elevations. Usually scarp and scarp face are used interchangeably with escarpment.

A 300-square-kilometre (120 sq mi) large deposit south of the volcano, originally interpreted as a nuee ardente deposit, is actually a landslide deposit [2] which extends over a length of 20 kilometres (12 mi) and a width of 7 kilometres (4.3 mi); [11] its volume is about 6 ± 1 cubic kilometre (1.44 ± 0.24 cu mi). [12] The landslide incorporated material from the salar, [13] and its rocks reflect in part the layering and structure of the pre-collapse volcano. [12] The deposit is one of the more conspicuous of its type, to the point that it was observed and identified on low-resolution Landsat images. [8] It consists of material that forms hummock-like deposits, with individual hummocks becoming smaller the farther away from the edifice they are. [9] The deposit extends into the Salar de Coipasa where it is confined by faults [11] and is in part covered by lacustrine sediments such as tufa. [9]


Off the western coast of South America, the Nazca Plate subducts beneath the South America Plate [14] at a rate of about 10 centimetres per year (3.9 in/year). [15] This subduction process is responsible for the volcanism in the Andean Volcanic Belt, which occurs in a Northern Volcanic Zone in Ecuador and Colombia, a Central Volcanic Zone in Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina and a Southern Volcanic Zone in Chile and Argentina. These volcanic zones are separated by gaps without volcanism, where the subduction process is shallower. [16]

Several phases of tectonic and volcanic activity have been identified in the Central Volcanic Zone. An earlier phase of volcanism in the Cordillera de la Costa commenced in the Jurassic but is considered separate from the Central Volcanic Zone magmatism proper. After an erosional hiatus during the Oligocene, volcanic arc activity increased during the Miocene and culminated in a phase of strong ignimbrite eruptions, [7] which originated in calderas. This phase was associated with a substantial thickening of the crust in the Central Andes. During the Pleistocene ignimbrite volcanism waned again and stratovolcanoes began to develop. [2]

Tata Sabaya lies along a crustal transition area which separates a younger crust farther south from an older (Proterozoic) crust in the north, [2] which is made up by the Chilenia terrane and the Arequipa-Antofalla craton, respectively. This transition area appears to coincide with a chain of volcanoes that Tata Sabaya is part of and which extends from Cerro Saxani in the east to Isluga in Chile, as well as with the northern end of the Pica gap where no recent volcanism occurs in the volcanic arc. [15]

The basement of the volcano is formed by the ignimbritic Altos de Pica formation, although outcrops of granite have been observed in the region; [15] one of these outcrops may be a Precambrian granite subsequently thermally modified in the Toarcian. [17] This basement is covered by younger volcanic rocks, alluvium and sediments of the Salar de Coipasa. Seismic tomography suggests that molten magma exists in the regional crust. [15]


Tata Sabaya has produced "two-pyroxene" andesite and porphyritic andesite. [18] Minerals contained within the rock are augite, biotite, hornblende, hypersthene, plagioclase and titanomagnetite with only little variation between rocks erupted during separate stages of volcanic activity. [19] The erupted volcanites define a potassium-rich calc-alkaline suite. Inclusions of more mafic [lower-alpha 1] rocks in the erupted material may indicate that mafic magma was injected into the magma chamber of Tata Sabaya. [10] The magma genesis at Tata Sabaya has been explained with magma mixing processes, which gave rise to a fairly uniform composition of the eruption products. [21]

Climate and vegetation

The region is dry with precipitation mainly falling during southern hemisphere summer, and has little vegetation cover. [4] Polylepis tarapacana trees grow on the slopes of Tata Sabaya; these trees form the highest woodlands in the world. [22] Other aspects of regional vegetation are the so-called puna steppe, which is characterized by grass and shrub vegetation. [23]

Eruption history

Of all volcanoes in Bolivia, Tata Sabaya is the only one with Holocene activity which is not on the border with another country. [2] The young age of the mountain has been inferred from the lack of glaciation [1] and moraines on the mountain, [8] unlike neighbouring summits. [1]

The earliest activity at Tata Sabaya constructed a pyroclastic shield, which crops out as a 20-metre (66 ft) thick sequence of block-and-ash flows fallout deposits and pumice deposits in the northern sector of the volcano. [15] Effusive eruptions then built up a volcanic cone on top of this shield; the five northerly lava flows were emplaced during this phase of activity. Some lava flows from this stage were unstable and collapsed, covering the northern parts of the volcano with debris. [24]

This effusive activity eventually oversteepened the cone, causing its southern sector to collapse. During this collapse and landsliding, large toreva blocks developed from sectors of the cone which slid down undeformed, while other material from the cone formed the hummocks in the sector collapse deposit; [9] there was no explosive eruption at the time of the collapse. The configuration of the deposit indicates that the debris entered the Salar when it was filled with water; the height of the tufa deposits imply that water levels were about 3,700 metres (12,100 ft) above sea level. This [10] and the lake terraces that the landslide overran marks the collapse as synchronous with the Lake Tauca episode 12,000-12,360 years ago [10] [8] when water levels in the Salar de Coipasa reached their maximum. [25] The onset of such collapses on volcanoes is often determined by faulting, climate change or eruption of the volcano; at Tata Sabaya earthquakes and the injection of new magma has been invoked to explain the destabilization of the edifice. [12]

After the collapse, Holocene activity filled the scar with lava domes and lava flows, cancelling the traces of the collapse; [25] some of these in turn collapsed as well and gave rise to hot avalanche deposits. [10] Radiocarbon dating for a pyroclastic flow has yielded an age of 6,000 years before present, implying that the volcano may be still active. [26] Reportedly, when in 1600 Huaynaputina erupted in Peru a volcano named Sabaya erupted in Oruro and destroyed a village. [27]


  1. A volcanic rock relatively rich in iron and magnesium, relative to silicium. [20]

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