Report on Santa Maria (Guatemala) — April 1991

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 16, no. 4 (April 1991)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland

Santa Maria (Guatemala) Strong explosion and pyroclastic flow; continued lava extrusion feeds rock avalanches

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1991. Report on Santa Maria (Guatemala). In: McClelland, L (ed.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 16:4. Smithsonian Institution.

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Santa Maria


14.756°N, 91.552°W; summit elev. 3772 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Quoted material is a report from the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory.

"At 0903 on 10 April, a powerful pyroclastic eruption shook El Caliente vent. The eruption produced a vertical plume that rose 3.5 km above the vent, and a pyroclastic flow that moved a few kilometers down the Río Nimá II. Ash blanketed the area immediately SW to a maximum thickness of 1-2 mm, and noticeable ashfall was observed at Retalhuleu [25 km SSW]. The ash consisted of comminuted dacite, gray to black volcanic glass, plagioclase, and quartz. This eruption marked the first major pyroclastic event at Santiaguito since 23 November 1990 and could signal an increase in hazardous pyroclastic activity similar to the period April-November 1990. Seismic activity increased significantly during the final week of March, following a period of relative quiescence from January through mid-March (figure 20)."

Figure (see Caption) Figure 20. Daily explosions and avalanches at Santiaguito, January-March 1991. Dotted lines indicate no data. Courtesy of Otoniel Matías.

Smaller pyroclastic events, observed during fieldwork 24-27 March and 11-13 April, lasted about 4-7 minutes and were separated by tens of minutes to >1 hour. Eruptive plumes ranged from black to white and rose 500-1,500 m. On 11 April, observers measured a 20° initial eastward inclination of the explosion clouds, and plume heights of 3,000 m. The source of the explosions had migrated about 150-200 m NNE from the summit, which continued to degas quietly.

Numerous avalanches, with 150-400 recorded daily by seismometers (figure 20), occurred on the E flank of the volcano, sometimes accompanied by loud summit explosions. The block lava flow erupting from the E summit of Caliente continued to flow slowly (<100 m/month), with frequent collapses of the flow front sending block-and-ash debris avalanching [into] the Río Nimá II [drainage].

Geologic Background. Symmetrical, forest-covered Santa MarĂ­a volcano is one of the most prominent of a chain of large stratovolcanoes that rises dramatically above the Pacific coastal plain of Guatemala. The 3772-m-high stratovolcano has a sharp-topped, conical profile that is cut on the SW flank by a large, 1.5-km-wide crater. The oval-shaped crater extends from just below the summit to the lower flank and was formed during a catastrophic eruption in 1902. The renowned plinian eruption of 1902 that devastated much of SW Guatemala followed a long repose period after construction of the large basaltic-andesite stratovolcano. The massive dacitic Santiaguito lava-dome complex has been growing at the base of the 1902 crater since 1922. Compound dome growth at Santiaguito has occurred episodically from four westward-younging vents, the most recent of which is Caliente. Dome growth has been accompanied by almost continuous minor explosions, with periodic lava extrusion, larger explosions, pyroclastic flows, and lahars.

Information Contacts: Otoniel Matías and Rodolfo Morales, INSIVUMEH; Michael Conway, Michigan Technological Univ; P. Vetsch, SVG, Switzerland; Thierry Basset, Univ de Genève, Switzerland.