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Geothermal field of El Tatio

by Peter Mathis and Martin Mergili

General information

El Tatio is a geothermal field at 4320 m asl. almost 70 km north of San Pedro de Atacama. It is well known for its high number of geysers, only exceeded by the sites of Yellowstone and Dolina Geizerov. El Tatio is not only rich in geysers, but also in fumaroles and hot springs. From a geological point of view, this geothermal field is related to some nearby, but extinct stratovolcanoes. The landscape in and around the geothermal field is characterized by sinter deposits which have evolved over time. Whereas plans to use the site for the exploitation of geothermal energy have been abandoned, this natural phenomenon is intensely used for tourism: organized tours from san Pedro start at 5 am, since the spectacle of geysers and fumaroles can be seen best before and during sunrise.


About fumaroles, solfatara, hot springs, and geysers

Click on the arrow to start the movie.

This movie conveys some early morning impressions of the geothermal field of El Tatio, and of the post-volcanic processes going on in this place. Obviously, in some places it is water which flows out, whereas gases are exhalated in other places. Sometimes there is higher pressure involved, sometimes it is lower pressure.

Try to explain those processes shown in the movie, focusing on their causes and main characteristics. If you are unsure in some respect, you are invited to formulate two or more hypotheses.

Movie: Peter Mathis

Show solution
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Click on the arrows or into the graphics to learn more about the mechanisms involved in post-volcanic processes.

Even though there are currently no active volcanoes in the area around El Tatio, a magma chamber is located in a relatively shallow position beneath the Earth surface. The geothermal gradient is therefore high, compared to other areas: this means that the temperature increases rapidly with depth.

References and links

Wikipedia article on El Tatio [Access source]