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Geologic map of the Valdez D-1 and D-2 quadrangles (Mount Wrangell Volcano), Alaska

April 29, 2016

Geologic Note

Mount Wrangell (elev. 4,317 m) is the youngest and only active volcano in the Oligocene to Holocene-aged Wrangell volcanic field that extends from beyond the Alaska-Yukon border northwest through the Wrangell Mountains to the Copper River Basin. The volcano is a very large (900 km3) broad shield containing an ice-filled, nonexplosive, collapse caldera measuring 3.2 by 5.6 kilometers. Three known craters, the West, North, and East occur along the north and west margins of the caldera; the caldera is open to the southeast. The volcano is best exposed on its southwest flank (this map area) where a number of deep glaciated canyons cut through hundreds of meters of shield lava flows creating routes for younger, valley-filling lava flows. The shield extends north into the Gulkana A-1 quadrangle, northeast into the Nabesna A-6 quadrangle, and east into the McCarthy quadrangle where it is almost entirely covered by ice. The present extent of the Mount Wrangell shield showing the entire caldera and locations of the three summit craters is depicted in figure 1.

Mount Wrangell was built rapidly beginning about 650 ka by the outpourings of hundreds of voluminous lava flows from a vent, or vents, apparently in the present summit area. By 200 ka to 300 ka, activity waned and only an occasional lava flow coursed down the glacially carved valleys radiating from the summit or flowed over the upper summit area above the heads of the glacial valleys. The youngest dated valley-fill lava flow is approximately 25,000 years old; one or two undated flows may be younger.

In historical times there have been several reports of lava flows issuing from the summit area. The most reliable and convincing of these were two independent observations from Copper Center, Alaska on September 3, 1899 that described great earth movements (the 1899 Yakutat Bay earthquake) followed by an eruption at Mount Wrangell’s summit, consisting of vigorous ash emission and flowing lava on the volcano’s northwest flank. This eruptive activity apparently continued for several years after the earthquake, as a photo taken around 1901–02 shows a large part of Mount Wrangell’s summit blanketed by ash. During this study, no evidence of young lava flows in the region were found, although it is very possible that a small-volume flow could be entirely hidden by snow and ice in the 100 years since the event. However, abundant juvenile andesitic pumice was found on the upper Chetaslina Glacier, strongly supporting a very young pyroclastic eruption.

In addition to the 1899–1902 eruptions there have been accounts of strong ash-producing activity on at least four different occasions: 1912, July 3, 1921, April 6, 1930, and February 20, 1982. Of these, the 1921 activity was the most spectacular, and possibly erupted from the northeast side of the summit caldera.

Present activity is limited to fumaroles in North and West Crater at the summit, at the summit ridge near East Crater, and at two localities at an elevation of 3,657 m on the southwest flank. The summit fumaroles frequently give rise to visible steam plumes, and occasionally sporadic explosive phreatic activity in North and West Crater will put a thin dusting of ash on the summit ice.

This study was directed toward Mount Wrangell volcano and the older Wrangell volcanic field rocks that underlie the volcano. These older lavas include the Chetaslina lavas (867 ka–1,650 ka) and a basaltic andesite–dacite center (1,590 ka–1,640 ka) whose source areas are not well defined. Older Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks of the Wrangellia terrane underlie the entire Wrangell volcanic field.

Publication Year 2016
Title Geologic map of the Valdez D-1 and D-2 quadrangles (Mount Wrangell Volcano), Alaska
DOI 10.3133/sim3351
Authors D.H. Richter, R. G. McGimsey, Keith A. Labay, M. A. Lanphere, R. B. Moore, C.J. Nye, D. S. Rosenkrans, G. R. Winkler
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Map
Series Number 3351
Index ID sim3351
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Science Center