Report on Masaya (Nicaragua) — March 1994

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 19, no. 3 (March 1994)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Masaya (Nicaragua) Incandescence visible in daylight; small eruptions

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1994. Report on Masaya (Nicaragua). In: Wunderman, R (ed.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 19:3. Smithsonian Institution.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin



11.984°N, 86.161°W; summit elev. 635 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

When visited by a team of scientists from INETER and FIU during 1000-1100 on 1 March 1994, Masaya exhibited two adjacent incandescent openings in the cooling lava lake. The 4- to 7-m-diameter openings appeared at the base of the N wall of a smaller crater within Santiago crater. In September 1993 incandescence was only visible at a single opening, and only at night. According to Canadian Missionaries living in Leon, the second incandescent opening was exposed in mid-February 1994. Several tourists reported seeing ash ejected from the incandescent openings on several occasions, an event documented by a second research team later in the month (see below).

INETER-FIU researchers saw a "diffuse, white, sulfur-rich plume . . . punctuated every several minutes by stronger, short-lived (tens of seconds) pulses of gas. The pulses were accompanied by jetting sounds that were easily heard on the S rim." They also noted a mantle of fresh black ash on the crater floor immediately adjacent to the incandescent openings.

During the period 7-11 March 1994, a research team from Open Univ (OU) revisited a 21 km leveling network established in February 1993. They resurveyed the network using precise leveling to find the vertical deformation. Errors in this portion of their survey were several millimeters. The OU team found that relative to stations 5 km E on the shore of Laguna de Masaya, the summit had shifted 2-3 cm upwards. A zone of uplift trended NE across the summit; the greatest uplift occurred near the caldera wall 2 km SW of the summit.

On 7 March at 1100 the OU team noted that the two incandescent openings remained separate, but by 1800 they had merged as the division between them collapsed. On 11 March the team tied this incandescent opening into their survey net. They used electronic distance measuring (EDM) instrumentation, shooting with double bearings, to determined the elevation of the opening as 233 m (error of 0.2 m). This elevation is equivalent to 294 m below the level of the car parking area on the S rim (150-200 m above sea level). The vent that contained the incandescent openings was elongate N-S, about 12-m long, and at least several meters deep.

Since their previous visit in February 1993, the OU team reported increased summit activity, including "strong smell of SO2" and a "fainter whiff of HCl at times." One team member felt that there were more fumaroles in Santiago crater and also along the uppermost arcuate fracture on the N side of Nindirí crater than in recent years. On 31 August 1993 fumaroles were found between Santiago and Masaya craters (BGVN 18:09), but during March 1994 they were absent. From observations of activity, OU researchers suggested that the top of the magma body is perhaps 30-80 m below the level of the vent.

During the interval 7-22 March the OU team reported that incandescence remained visible, ". . . glowing bright red even in broad daylight." Audible gas exhalations were monitored 16 times during this interval: they averaged 30-40 puffs/minute. Bombs were typically ejected slightly less than once per minute, but each explosion produced 1-10 bombs. They landed at most about 30 m from the vent, to the WSW, W, or NW. Maximum bomb diameter was 50 cm. The blanket of tephra in this quadrant grew noticeably during the observation period.

Even though in September 1993 only one incandescent opening was visible, a short time later, in early October 1993, Masaya underwent an episode of increased explosive activity that included lava splashing every 10-15 seconds (BGVN 18:10). Some previous Masaya reports described fluctuations in the color of incandescent openings (for example in 1982, SEAN 07:11).

In addition to their geological observations, the OU team also remarked that "Hundreds of parrots, which had deserted the crater last year, have returned to nest in holes and crevices in the S walls of Santiago crater now that it is active again." In 1979 Masaya became Nicaragua's first National Park.

Geologic Background. Masaya is one of Nicaragua's most unusual and most active volcanoes. It lies within the massive Pleistocene Las Sierras pyroclastic shield volcano and is a broad, 6 x 11 km basaltic caldera with steep-sided walls up to 300 m high. The caldera is filled on its NW end by more than a dozen vents that erupted along a circular, 4-km-diameter fracture system. The twin volcanoes of NindirĂ­ and Masaya, the source of historical eruptions, were constructed at the southern end of the fracture system and contain multiple summit craters, including the currently active Santiago crater. A major basaltic Plinian tephra erupted from Masaya about 6500 years ago. Historical lava flows cover much of the caldera floor and have confined a lake to the far eastern end of the caldera. A lava flow from the 1670 eruption overtopped the north caldera rim. Masaya has been frequently active since the time of the Spanish Conquistadors, when an active lava lake prompted attempts to extract the volcano's molten "gold." Periods of long-term vigorous gas emission at roughly quarter-century intervals cause health hazards and crop damage.

Information Contacts: Cristian Lugo, INETER; Michael Conway, Andrew Macfarlane, and Peter LaFemina, Florida International Univ (FIU); J. Murray, B. van Wyk de Vries, and A. Maciejewski, Open Univ.