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The México and Central America Region
Originally designated 'Central America' by CAVW organizers, this region also includes México. México dominates the region in both population (75%) and land area (80%), and the region's total population ranks it 5th among CAVW regions. The Holocene volcanoes of México and Central America, combined with those of South America and the Canary Islands, total 320, meaning that Spanish is spoken around more volcanoes than any other language.
México's early civilizations built the largest city in the Americas and pyramids larger than Egypt's in the second century CE. In 700 CE the Mayans were flourishing from Yucatan to the Pacific, but this civilization fell 200 years later. To the north, though, in the fertile central valley of México, the Toltecs were building the most highly developed pre-Columbian civilization in Latin America. From the mid-12th century the Aztecs dominated, and the first documented new world eruption (Popocatépetl, in 1345) was recorded in the Aztec codices. A population as large as 15 million was present in 1519, when Cortez and 600 conquistadores landed, but within two years the Spaniards had killed the Aztec king and captured their principal city. The spread of the Spanish empire over the region was swift, and most early documentation of volcanism was by Catholic priests.
To the south, Columbus had made the first European landfall on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in 1502, and Balboa first sighted the Pacific, at Panama, in 1513. The Kingdom of Guatemala (so known since 1549) was the political heart of Spanish rule in Central America, and had its largest population. Guatemala declared independence from Spain in 1821, along with the other Central American countries. The region has not been free of political unrest, and the quality of volcano reporting has varied in space and time.
Volcanism has had important impacts on the region. As was learned with the 1982 eruption of El Chichón (and the even larger ~450 CE eruption of Ilopango in El Salvador), the region produces large explosive eruptions. Only Japan and Kamchatka have higher numbers of volcanoes with average VEIs of 3 or larger, only Indonesia, South America and Japan have had more VEI ?4 eruptions in the last 200 years, and only Indonesia has suffered more volcanic death tolls exceeding one thousand (see FATALITIES). El Chichón volcano, which last erupted in 1982, devastating adjacent towns and villages and producing ash and volcanic aerosols that circled the globe, has the 2nd highest average VEI (4.5) of any volcano in the world with 5 or more 5 VEI assignments.
Reflecting the strong archeological interest in México and Central America, this region trails only Region 01 for the largest number of eruptions dated archeologically (9 and 7 dates, respectively). Explosive eruptions and associated lahars from Popocatépetl volcano and lava flows from the Xitle cinder cone of the Sierra de Chichinautzin volcanic field have impacted pre-Columbian sites in the Valley of México, and archeologists have documented the impact of an eruption on villages of a 17th century NW-flank vent of San Salvador volcano. Two of the world's best examples of the formation of 'new volcanoes' took place in central México, when the Jorullo and Parícutin cinder cones were added to the vast Michoacán-Guanajuato volcanic field in 1759 and 1943. The explosive eruption of Guatemala's Santa María volcano in 1902 was one of the world's largest 20th century eruptions, producing ashfall as far away as México City. Most active volcanoes in region 14 occur in belts produced by subduction of Pacific oceanic crust beneath the southern edge of the North American Plate and the western edge of the Caribbean Plate. Large stratovolcanoes and silicic calderas are found here, but the region also contains many basaltic volcanic fields, particularly in the central valley of México and along the Guatemala-El Salvador border. A few other active volcanic fields in northern México are related to extensional tectonics of the Basin and Range Province, which split the Baja California peninsula from the mainland. Mafic behind-the-arc volcanic fields of Holocene and Pleistocene age also lie east of the volcanic front along the Caribbean Sea lowlands in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.
Honduras was not included in the CAVW, but Honduran volcanoes of Holocene age have since been recognized along the main volcanic front of Central America. Rather than break the geographic sequence, we have added the Honduran volcanoes at the end of subregion 1403, so that these volcanoes at the volcanic front in the Gulf of Fonseca area follow immediately after their Salvadorian neighbors. The Lake Yojoa volcanic field north of Honduras' largest lake and Utilia Island in the Caribbean Sea off the northern coast of Honduras then follow before resuming with subregion 1404 at the volcanic front on the Nicaraguan side of the Gulf of Fonseca.
List of Holocene volcanoes in the México and Central America region.