The Red Hill-Quemado volcanic field just west of Quemado, New Mexico was recently added to the New Mexico volcano watch list by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) that tracks the potential risk of all volcanoes.
New Mexico is one of the most volcanically active states in the U.S. However, according to Tobias Fischer, a professor of earth and planetary sciences with a research interest in volcanology at the University of New mexico, while New Mexico has experienced recent volcanic activity in geological time, the term “recent” in geological time is different than the term “recent” in human time.
“Like the Red-Hill Zuni Salt Lake field, many of these (New Mexican volcanoes) have been active pretty recently in geologic history, i.e., only about 10,000 years ago.” Fischer said. “More monitoring of these volcanic centers is needed in order to learn how active these volcanic centers currently are.”
Fischer said the most volcanically active area of New Mexico is the Valles Caldera in the Jemez mountains. The U.S. has 10 percent of the worlds potentially active or currently active volcanoes in the world, he added.
According to the USGS’ profile on the Red Hill-Quemado volcano field “the Red Hill-Quemado volcanic field in western New Mexico is across the border from the Springerville volcanic field in Arizona and contains more than 40 cinder cones and maars that were active from the late Miocene to early Holocene.”
A threat list is a list of volcanoes that need to be studied further, Fischer said. The Red Hill-Quemado volcanic fields experienced eruptions called Strombian. There is evidence the eruptions forming the cinder cones in the field interacted with water. Fischer said this is called hydro-volcanism.
“The new dates that have been published last year indicate that the volcanic field was active between 12,300 and 11,000 years ago,” Fischer said. “This new work uses the most advanced dating methods that include Optically stimulated luminescence and accelerator mass spectrometer C-14 dating,” adding that these techniques are advanced compare to the Argon dating previously used that put the last eruption date between 190,000 and 24,000 years ago.
Many of the volcanoes in New Mexico were created by the Rio Grande rift, Fischer said. The crust at the rift is thinner, making geological activity have a greater impact on the surface topography. Here, magma is much closer to the surface.
The volcanic field located near Quemado is located on an area that is crustually weak, which accounts for the volcanic activity.
Megan Holmen is the assistant news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_holmen.