Lightning flashed and the sky over Chile's erupting volcano Calbuco glowed orange overnight, as it spewed smoke and ash into the air. (Reuters)

The visuals of Chile’s Calbuco volcano, erupting for the first time in 42 years, are absolutely mind-blowing. They display billowing clouds, fueled by volcano’s piping hot lava and smoke, which penetrate into the stratosphere and are an incredible demonstration of the earth meeting the atmosphere.

[Chile’s Calbuco volcano erupts with vivid clouds of ash]

Here are amazing timelapse videos of the eruption:

The puffy, expanding clouds you see in this imagery are known as pyrocumulus and pyrocumulonimbus. In the top two videos, you can see flashes of lightning within the cloud field. This is not at all uncommon in the most vigorous pyrocumulonimbus, as we described in an earlier post:

Pyrocumulus clouds form when intense heat at the ground causes air to rise rapidly. This usually happens in the event of a wildfire or volcanic eruption. The clouds themselves form in the way that all clouds do — as the air rises, water vapor condenses into tiny droplets, which form the cloud. While typical cumulus clouds appear puffy and white, pyrocumulus can take on a grey appearance due to the ash and smoke within the cloud. In the case of exceptionally strong updrafts, pyrocumulonimbus clouds are possible, which can produce rainfall and lightning.

Satellite imagery unmistakably reveals these tall and turbulent clouds:

According to the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, the shock from the volcano’s second eruptive blast was so strong that it generated gravity waves in the mesosphere – the atmospheric layer above the stratosphere, 30-50 miles high. Gravity waves occur when the atmosphere is disturbed and the force of gravity attempts to restore equilibrium. Satellite imagery captured the waves, also known as airglow waves, which appear like ripples on a pond.


Gravity waves generated by volcanic eruption shock (CIMSS Satellite blog)

For some excellent details on the geologic aspects of the volcano, see this post from Erik Klemmiti at Wired.com: Chile’s Calbuco Unleashes Dramatic Explosive Eruption

Meanwhile – here’s a great assortment of photos from social media and our news wires:


General view of Chilean Calbuco volcano from Puerto Montt, located at 1000 km southern Santiago de Chile, Chile, 22 April 2015. Due to the eruption of the volcano with a smoke column 20 km high, authorities declared a red alert and ordered the evacuation of around 1500 inhabitants of Ensenada, Alerce, Colonia Río Sur and Correntoso towns. (EPA/ALEX VIDAL BRECAS)

View from Puerto Montt, southern Chile, of a high column of ash and lava spewing from the Calbuco volcano, on April 22, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/ATON CHILE)

View from Puerto Varas, southern Chile, of a high column of ash and lava spewing from the Calbuco volcano, on April 22, 2015.  (AFP PHOTO/GIORDANA SCHMIDT)

View from Puerto Varas, southern Chile, of a high column of ash and lava spewing from the Calbuco volcano, on April 22, 2015. AFP PHOTO/AGENCIA UNO – GIAN REPETTOGIAN REPETTO)

The Chilean government has issued a health warning on Thursday for people living in the vicinity of the Calbuco volcano which continues to spew smoke and ash into the sky. (Reuters)