Are There Volcanoes In Brazil?

credit: Peter Parker

There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil, according to the song, but that’s not the case with volcanoes. Brazil, the largest country in South America, is situated mainly on the South American Plate, an ancient, stable part of the Earth’s crust. So, are there volcanoes in Brazil?

There are no active volcanoes in Brazil, although there is volcanic activity elsewhere in South America. However, there are several extinct volcanoes and signs of volcanic activity going back millions of years, which make for fascinating exploration and study.

Why Are There No Volcanoes In Brazil?

Before looking at Brazil’s volcanic activity, or lack thereof, it will be interesting to examine how volcanoes are formed.

How And Where Do Volcanoes Form?

Nearly three-quarters of all the Earth’s active volcanoes are in the Ring of Fire, a 25,000-mile chain of volcanoes that circles the edges of the Pacific Ocean. The west coast of South America is the eastern extreme of this Ring of Fire.

The Earth’s crust is divided into seven tectonic plates, which “float” on the mantle layer of the Earth. Almost all volcanoes are formed at the margins or edges of these plates. When one plate slips under another, the mantle wedge melts, turning into magma or lava, which leaks into the crust and finds a weakness to escape into and out of the Earth.

From a geological viewpoint, Brazil is one of the most stable areas on the South American continent. Located on the eastern side of the South American plate, it’s very distant from the margins on the west coast, where the movement of the Earth’s tectonic crust is more likely to occur.

Most of Brazil sits on a stable craton, which is an ancient part of the Earth’s crust. This area has not witnessed volcanic activity for millions of years, and thus, it is considered extinct in terms of volcanic activity.

How Does Science Define A Volcano?

When researchers examine the volcanic activity of a country or region, they define the volcanoes as being active, dormant, or extinct.

1. Extinct volcanoes will have the following characteristics:

  •  No activity for more than 10,000 years
  • There will have been no seismicity (earth tremors or ‘quakes) in the region for the same period.
  • There is no lava supply to the volcano.

2. Dormant volcanoes are defined as being likely to erupt again and are characterized by

  • having no activity for at least 10,000 years
  • being in an area of seismicity
  • having a potential lava supply

3. Active volcanoes are those with

  • recorded eruptions in the last 10,000 years
  • activity which includes lava flows or emission of gas or ash

What Were The Volcanic Regions In Brazil?

With no volcanic eruptions in Brazil for millions of years, there are no dormant or extinct volcanoes that are recognizable for their fiery past. Nevertheless, research has identified regions whose geology is typical of volcanic activity.

 The Serra Geral Formation

The Serra Geral Formation covers about one million square kilometers and is one of the largest volcanic masses in the world, stretching across parts of southern Brazil, eastern Paraguay, and northeastern Argentina. It consists of basaltic lava flows, volcanic breccias, and volcanic tuffs.  

The volcanic activity in this region was associated with the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana and the opening of the South Atlantic Ocean and dates back as far as the Jurassic era, between 66 and 145 million years.


The Ancient Minas Volcanoes

The mountainous landscape of the Brazilian Southeast is the remnants of a chain of volcanoes that were active about 600 million years ago. At that time, its peaks were as impressive as those of the Andes, but erosion consumed them, and today, the rocks that formed the volcanoes are exposed only as outcroppings in Minas.

The Pico Do Cabugi

For those travelers who have set their hearts on seeing a volcano in Brazil, this is the only extinct volcano that has kept its original form. Also known as the Serra do Cabugi or Serrote da Itaretama, it has an elevation of 1936 feet and is situated in the northeast of the state of Rio Grande do Norte.

Compared to the other volcanic regions in Brazil, this volcano is relatively young, dating back about 19 million years, resulting from a major geological upheaval in the area. The presence of small xenoliths (rocks embedded in molten lava) indicates that they erupted from a depth of about 200,000 feet below the surface.

Access to Pico Do Cabugi involves taking the road from Luges, the closest town, north for a few miles, parking at the start of the trail, and then walking through a small forest before an easy 45-minute climb through a boulder field to the summit. The star show at night will make the effort worthwhile.

The Fernando de Noronha Archipelago

Located about 214 miles off the northeastern coast of Brazil and part of the State of Pernambuco, this volcanic archipelago consists of 21 islands, islets, and the visible peaks of a range of a submerged mountain chain. The archipelago is composed of igneous rocks, such as basalt and phonolite, which erupted from undersea volcanoes.

The highest point is Morro do Pico, with its beautiful rock formations. Fernando de Noronha is also renowned for its pristine, undeveloped beaches. Rich in marine life, including sea turtles, rays, dolphins, and reef sharks, the islands are ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling. Protected by the local environmentalist organization, these islands and ecosystems are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and remain largely unspoiled – a peaceful haven for a few fortunate tourists.

When Were Volcanoes Last Active In Brazil?

While it is of no interest to tourists, there are reports that there was volcanic activity dating back to the Pleistocene age in two locations off the coast of Brazil. One of these was a stratovolcano formed on the Martin Vas archipelago, close to the small island of Trindade, and the second one was on Trindade itself. Both locations are in the mid-Atlantic but are Brazilian territory.

Where Are Volcanos Still Active In South America?

If tourists to South America are keen to observe the spectacle of an active volcano, there are other options than Brazil. Instead, the most likely sightings will be in Chile, where the most recent eruption of the volcano Villarica was in June 2023. There are 2085 volcanoes in Chile, of which 6% are considered active.

Other destinations for volcano tourists include

  • Cotopaxi Volcano is 90 minutes outside of Quito, Ecuador. Situated in the Cotopaxi National Park, the volcano is accessible for hikers and offers truly spectacular views.
  • Nevado del Ruíz Volcano in Colombia is a broad stratovolcano situated 80 miles from the capital, Bogota, and best known for its destructive double eruption in 1985, which resulted in the deaths of over 26,000 people in nearby towns.
  • Nevado del Huila Volcano in Colombia is the highest volcano in Colombia, reaching a height of 17,598 ft. The summit is glacier-capped, with stunning views.
  • Tungurahua Volcano is located about 140 km south of the capital city of Quito and is one of the most active volcanoes in Ecuador. Tungurahua is a steep-sided stratovolcano that last erupted in 2018 but is showing signs of flank weakness which may result in its collapse.
  • Reventador Volcano in Ecuador is part of a chain of volcanoes further east than the main volcanic axis of the region. The last eruption was in 2008, but it has remained in eruption status since then, with ongoing volcanic activity. It lies in a remote part of the Reventador National Park, and some eruptions may have gone unreported.

There are over 200 active volcanoes in South America, but none of them are in the continent’s largest country, Brazil. While it does offer spectacular scenery, magnificent beaches, vibrant cities, and world-famous carnivals, its stable geology doesn’t lend itself to those people who are keen volcano-watchers – they need to explore the Ring Of Fire in the west.