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Geological localities

El Tatio Geysers

We left San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile, at 4:00 am with a regular tourist 4x4 car. The goal of the day: the El Tatio geyser field, one of the geological marvels in the surroundings of San Pedro. After 1:30 h travelling on bumpy dirt roads, we reach a wide valley that was steaming continuously. It is 6:00 am, we are at 4300 m above sea level, and the temperature is -10 C. Despite such high altitude, the El Tatio geyser field is not the highest in the world. The highest is the Sol de la Maņana geyser field, in Bolivia, a few kilometers east of El Tatio.

Sunrise on El Tatio

Sunrise on El Tatio

During the visit, we walk through the steam that is flowing directly from the Earth, through sub-circular vents. The air is entirely filled with the steam, but surprisingly and fortunately it does not smell sulfur. We enjoy this amazing natural show made of white steam columns that were dancing when the wind was slightly blowing. We are playing with the steam like ghosts that we cannot capture with our hands. This spectacle is really amazing.

Tourists in El Tatio

Tourists in El Tatio

Sunrise on El Tatio

But what is the origin of this geyser field? This field is the direct result of the activity of the Earth. It lies at the core of the volcanic arc, precisely in the caldera of El Tatio Volcano. A caldera is a large depression resulting from the collapse of a volcanic edifice after a very large volcanic eruption.

Vents of El Tatio

Vents of El Tatio

At the root of El Tatio volcano lays partially molten magma, i.e. molten rock, at more than 900 C a few kilometers depth. Thus, below the volcano the interior of the Earth is much hotter than in normal geological environments.

Mineralized vent in El Tatio

Mineralized vent in El Tatio

In the area, the rain and snow that falls on the Andes Mountains infiltrate in the Earth and flow as subterraneous waters. It can flow down to several kilometers, close to the very hot root of El Tatio Volcano. There, the water is considerably heated up by several hundreds degrees. The hot waters ascend along fractures or channels until they erupt at the surface at geyser fields.

Geyser crater at El tatio

Small vents and craters at El tatio

These hydrothermal waters transport a lot of heat that can be exploited in hydrothermal power plants, like in Iceland. At El Tatio, an experimental power plant has been installed in 1974. Unfortunately, the test was abandoned because the hydrothermal waters were too corrosive.

The El Tatio geyser field

The El Tatio geyser field

The El Tatio geyser field

 

 

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