Report on Poas (Costa Rica) — May 1996

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 21, no. 5 (May 1996)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman

Poas (Costa Rica) N crater lake at 10-year high; water temperature increases; phreatic explosion on 8 April

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1996. Report on Poas (Costa Rica). In: Wunderman, R (ed.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 21:5. Smithsonian Institution.

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Costa Rica

10.2°N, 84.233°W; summit elev. 2708 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

When observed by visiting scientists on 11-13 March, the lake in the active N crater was at its highest level since 1986, with a depth estimated at 50 m. The lake's color was pale green, its measured temperature, 32°C, and pH, 1.5.

The scientists noted three areas of fumarolic activity in the active crater with the strongest concentrated on the 1953-55 cone immediately S of the lake. Most of this activity was located on the NW side of the cone near lake level; in this area, high-pressure degassing exited from an E-W oriented fracture ~10 m above the lake's surface. These fumaroles have appeared since the beginning of 1996. Low-pressure fumaroles were also observed on the eastern top of the dome, with gas exiting through small cracks and crevices. Maximum temperatures were 93°C, suggesting that these were boiling-point fumaroles.

A second set of at least five individual fumaroles above the lake's W edge within the inner crater began appearing at the end of 1995, with the most recent one, which displayed the highest gas pressure, forming in March 1996. A third set of fumaroles had been observed since April 1995 in the crater's S area where the trail begins ascending to the Mirador; these had low pressure. Temperatures did not exceed 93°C, again indicating boiling-point fumaroles.

Microgravity measurements made in the crater area showed a continuation in the trend of increased gravity on the N crater floor and a new pattern of decreased gravity (~100 µgal in two years) on the S crater floor.

When visited by OVSCICORI-UNA scientists during April and May the surface of the light-gray crater lake had risen 0.4 and 96 cm, respectively, compared to March. The lake's temperature recently increased: in April it was 36°C and in May, 42°C (compared to 26°C in February and 30°C in March). As is typical, fumaroles clustered near the pyroclastic cone. Their temperatures measured 94°C during April and May; however, the most vigorously degassing zones were inaccessible. Some of these degassing zones continued to make loud noises and their condensed gases formed plumes that rose to 500 m above the crater floor. On the SE, S, and SW walls, maximum fumarole temperatures ranged between 91 and 94°C.

In addition to suspended sulfur and constant bubbling seen in the lake, small landslide deposits were noted leading into the lake from the crater walls. Park guards reported that when the wind blew to the S, visitors suffered from coughs and irritated eyes and skin. New fumaroles appeared along the E crater wall, coincident with high-frequency earthquakes and increased steam output at the pyroclastic cone.

Except for signals associated with a small phreatic eruption, seismic station POA2 registered relative quiet during April: 651 total earthquakes, 24 mid-frequency earthquakes, 17 high-frequency earthquakes, and four hours of tremor. During May POA2 registered 1,243 earthquakes, 29 mid-frequency earthquakes, 21 high-frequency earthquakes, and six hours of tremor. Some of the latter signals during May were correlated with increased fumarolic activity and the appearance of new fumaroles in the active crater.

On the morning of 8 April a low-frequency signal lasting for 223 seconds coincided with an eruption. Fieldwork on 12 April disclosed that the eruption had thrown blocks S to SW of the dome. The blocks had dimensions of up to 35 x 45 cm; in an area N of the lake, the diameter of some blocks reached 80 cm. The N, W, and SW walls of the lake were coated with light gray material ejected from the lake floor. Much of the same material fell back into the lake. Insubstantial deformation was seen during April and May.

Geologic Background. The broad, well-vegetated edifice of Poás, one of the most active volcanoes of Costa Rica, contains three craters along a N-S line. The frequently visited multi-hued summit crater lakes of the basaltic-to-dacitic volcano, which is one of Costa Rica's most prominent natural landmarks, are easily accessible by vehicle from the nearby capital city of San José. A N-S-trending fissure cutting the 2708-m-high complex stratovolcano extends to the lower northern flank, where it has produced the Congo stratovolcano and several lake-filled maars. The southernmost of the two summit crater lakes, Botos, is cold and clear and last erupted about 7500 years ago. The more prominent geothermally heated northern lake, Laguna Caliente, is one of the world's most acidic natural lakes, with a pH of near zero. It has been the site of frequent phreatic and phreatomagmatic eruptions since the first historical eruption was reported in 1828. Eruptions often include geyser-like ejections of crater-lake water.

Information Contacts: Erick Fernández, Elicer Duarte, Vilma Barboza, Rodolfo Van der Laat, and Enrique Hernandez, Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica, Universidad Nacional (OVSICORI-UNA), Apartado 86-3000, Heredia, Costa Rica; Hazel Rymer and Mark Davies, Dept. of Earth Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, United Kingdom; John Stix, Dora Knez, Glyn Williams-Jones, and Alexandre Beaulieu, Dept. de Geologie, Universite de Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, H3C 3J7, Canada (Email:; Nicki Stevens, Dept. of Geography, University of Reading, Reading RG2 2AB, United Kingdom.