The volcano that grew out of a cornfield

Located in central Mexico, 200 km west of Mexico City, Paricutin is quite unique among volcanoes. Scientists were actually able to witness its birth! In 1943, it began erupting from a cornfield, which was ready for planting. This eruption, lasting 9 years until 1952, is the most recent, and in fact Paricutin’s only eruption in its brief history.

This volcano is a cinder cone, which means it was built up by projectiles flung from the crater during its explosive eruptions. The continuous eruption from ’43 to ’52 built it up to a height of about 1200 feet. It is still officially classified as active, but it hasn’t erupted since then.

Why Did It Occur?

Paricutin lies in a large volcanic field called the Michacán-Guanajuato. This area is part of the Mexican Volcanic Belt, where one tectonic plate is being forced beneath another, and which is home to about 1,400 vents. This type of area, which is called a subduction zone, causes many of the volcanoes around the world. When the plate is forced below, its rock melts, increasing the pressure of the magma in the mantle, and often causing vents, where the molten rock is forced out of cracks as lava.

What were its effects?

Paricutin, aside from being a unique situation for volcanologists to study, was an incredible natural disaster. Erupting from a farm on the outskirts of a Mexican town called San Juan, it created lava flows that blanketed ten square miles, devastating San Juan and another village. The surrounding areas were covered with ash, which eventually destroyed the forests. And of San Juan itself, only the steeple of the church remains as a sign of its existence.

Although no one was killed by the lava or ash, the eruption created dramatic bursts of lightning in 1-5 minute intervals, which killed three people. During the last 6 months of its activity, violent explosions occurred frequently, demonstrating the awesome force that is contained beneath the earth’s crust, and which had caused these terrible deaths.

Fortunately, the dislocated population eventually recovered as a community, forming a profitable forestry cooperative at New San Juan Parangaricutiro.