The volcanic beginning and end of Paricutin

Paricutin is a volcano that emerged in a cornfield in the village of Paricutin, Mexico in 1943. The volcano grew to its full height in less than ten years from the time of its birth from a small fissure in the ground. It became extinct nine years after its emergence. This gave volcanologists a rare opportunity to witness the birth, growth and death of a volcano.

On February 20, 1943, a farmer in Paricutin noticed a small crack in the ground forming in the cornfield. Shortly after this, smoke and ash began emitting from the crack as well as a foul rotten egg smell. By the following day the beginnings of a small volcano could be seen in the field. There had been small earthquakes occurring in the area prior to the event, but no one was prepared for what had happened.

By the second day, the entire cornfield was covered in lava. The volcano’s cone grew taller with each passing day. It erupted nearly continuously during its growth. In the first year of its existence, Paricutin grew 1,100 feet. That is more than three-quarters of its final height. By the following year the nearby villages of Paricutin and San Juan Parangaricutiro were virtually destroyed by the lava and the forceful eruptions. Members of these communities had long since fled, leaving behind the crops and homes that had once been their livelihoods. Some other communities were affected by the volcano, but none as badly as Paricutin and San Juan Parangaricutiro.

Luckily, nobody died as a direct result of the lava flow, Nonetheless, three people were killed by the lightning that so often accompanies volcanic activity. It is reasonable to assume that some people were affected by the gas that emitted from Paricutin. However, there were no deaths reported where this was cited as the cause.

Paricutin, which turned out to be a cinder cone volcano, continued to erupt for nine years. The flow of lava eventually covered ten square miles of land. The final height of the volcano was 1,391 feet and 9,210 feet above sea level.

Paricutin stopped erupting in February of 1952. It had been most active in the year of its birth. From there on activity gradually slowed to a stop. Researchers believe that Paricutin is now extinct. Volcanic activity will likely occur in the area, but it is highly unlikely that Paricutin will ever erupt again.

Volcano births of this kind are exceedingly rare. Being able to view Paricutin from birth to extinction was an extraordinary opportunity for scientists. Today Paricutin, the mountain that was once a cornfield, is listed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.