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Report on Santa Ana (El Salvador) — April 2001

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 26, no. 4 (April 2001)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Santa Ana (El Salvador) 2000-2001 observations of glowing fumaroles and release of magmatic gas

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2001. Report on Santa Ana (El Salvador). In: Wunderman, R (ed.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 26:4. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200104-343020.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin

Santa Ana

El Salvador

13.853°N, 89.63°W; summit elev. 2381 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Santa Ana's summit crater contains an acid lake that in 2000 was ~200 m in diameter with a maximum depth of 27 m; its volume was estimated at ~200,000 m3. The lake water has a composition typical of acid-sulfate-chloride lakes (table 1). Dissolved sulfates yielded delta34S of 16.0, suggesting that a significant sulfur source is magmatic SO2 gas. Several hot springs with 80°C temperatures lie along the shore of the lake and have compositions close to that of the lake waters. Fumaroles on the W side of the lake had a maximum temperature, recorded in January 2000, of 523°C.

Table 1. Compositions of Santa Ana's crater lake waters for 2000-2001. Samples were collected in 2000 during January (sample designation, SAL), July (SAN1), and August (SAN2), and collected in 2001 during February (SAP). Chemical concentrations are in mg/L. Courtesy of the authors.

Component January 2000 July 2000 August 2000 February 2001
Water pH 0.91 0.91 0.9 0.85
T, °C 18.9 30 30 26
Al 1155 1214 1161 1617
Ca 819 862 805 1126
Fe 761 832 720 1020
K 137 145 139 203
Mg 299 307 283 379
Mn 16 17 16 19
Na 377 395 367 496
Si 115 132 129 168
F 218 194 194 383
Cl 5555 7603 7267 8564
SO4 8647 10907 10661 12682
TDS 18118 22639 21773 26657
SO4/Cl ratio 1.56 1.43 1.47 1.48
δ34S 16 16.1 16 16

The Centro de Investigaciones Geotecnicas (CIG) noted that during May-September 2000 the lake temperature increased from 19 to 30°C. On 15 February 2001, the temperature was 26°C and the pH was 0.8-0.9. Bubbling and increased gas emissions were observed in several areas of the lake. During February 2001, sulfur spherules in the lake caused the water color to change to a shade of milky yellow-brown. During May-September 2000, the composition of the lake was only slightly affected, suggesting that no major changes occurred within the hydrothermal system beneath the lake (table 1).

Beginning in August 2000, observers found the increasingly deleterious effects of acidic vapor and rainfall on vegetation in the area SW and N of the crater. Winds are dominated by NE trades, which generally drive the plume from the volcano over the rim of the crater to the S and W. By December 2000, more severe effects on the flora were reported, and an area of ~8-10 km2 located S and W of the crater contained markedly discolored and defoliated vegetation. Brief periods of acidic rainfall were reported at Juayua, 13 km W of the crater. In January 2001, incandescent areas within the fumarolic region W of the crater lake were observed at night and may have been present earlier.

COSPEC measurements of the plume were made using the Guatemalan COSPEC on 8 and 9 February 2001. Tripod-based surveys were made from Cerro Verde (elevation ~2,000 m), 2 km S of the crater. Automobile-based traverses conducted along the Santa Ana - Sonsonate highway (5 km W of Santa Ana) were made on 9 February. These surveys resulted in an average SO2 flux of 393 tons/day on 8 February and 244 tons/day on 9 February. During measurements of the plume from the Cerro Verde site, periods of noticeable puffing were observed, affecting the COSPEC measurements by a factor greater than 8.

Two new, permanent telemetered seismic stations, located 1.5 km SE of the crater and 5.5 km NW on Cerro Retiro, were installed by USGS/VDAP and CIG personnel in February 2001. During February, these stations did not detect abnormal seismicity beneath the volcano. A portable recorder located at Finca San Blas from about 20 January through 9 February registered little volcano-seismic activity apart from a few small fumarolic emissions in late January.

Interpretation: The changes since the summer of 2000 are apparently due to increased venting of a well-developed hydrothermal system through the lake, hot springs, and fumaroles. This hydrothermal system is venting substantially higher SO2 (and presumably other gases) in an acidic plume blown by NE trade winds. The lack of seismic activity suggests that the hydrothermal activity increase was not driven by the arrival of new magma beneath the crater.

The SO2 emission rate was high for a quiescent volcano that lacks an open vent. The SO2 may evolve from a gas reservoir below the hydrothermal system, trapped by a hydrothermal cap (clay or silica) as a result of long term (centuries or millennia) crystallization of magma below the cap (Giggenbach and others, 1990). The recent increase in degassing may reflect fracturing or leaking of the hydrothermal cap.

Crater hazards. Reports suggest that significant phreatic activity could occur at Santa Ana, including ejected bombs and blocks, even without magmatic movement under the volcano. This eventuality, a potential extension of the pulsating SO2 emissions, could make conditions unsafe in the crater region. Furthermore, unsubstantiated rumors from local residents and ambiguous geological observations (e.g., abundant dust-possibly settled ash-coating the upper surfaces of leaves of plants in the crater and on the upper slopes) have suggested to some that minor, rare phreatic eruptive events have already occurred.

January 2001 earthquake. At about 1135 on 13 January 2001, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 and a depth of 60 km occurred off the El Salvadoran coastline, its epicenter (at 12.8° N latitude and 88.8°W longitude) lay ~150 km SE of Santa Ana volcano. The earthquake caused extensive damage and destruction throughout much of El Salvador. By 19 January the country was struck by over 660 aftershocks. According to information provided by the National Emergency Committee (COEN) on 17 January 2001, the death toll was put at 681, with 2,615 injured. Approximately 20,000 people moved into over 80 temporary shelters; 90,929 houses sustained damaged, with 24,759 destroyed; and 45,842 people had been evacuated.

News sources based on reports from local residents raised concern that the earthquake was the result of eruptions from Santa Ana volcano. This conclusion was almost certainly in error.

However, during a helicopter overflight on 17 January, James Vallance, an American volcanologist, believed he saw incandescence in the crater. During a subsequent overflight on 18 January, Vallance, Carlos Pullinger, and Demetrio Escobar observed that the incandescence came from glowing cracks in the fumarole field, which, as noted above, had measured temperatures exceeding 500°C. They noted that there was no new lava or magma visible in the crater to indicate recent eruptions. This conclusion was substantiated later by measurements with a portable seismograph, which failed to detect local earthquakes under the volcano.

References. Pullinger, C., 1998, Evolution of the Santa Ana Volcanic complex, El Salvador: Unpublished MS thesis, Michigan Technological University, 152 p.

Larde, J., 1923, El Volcan de Izalco, San Salvador.

Gutierrez, R.E., and Escobar, C.D., 1994, Crisis en la actividad del Volcan de Santa Ana (Ilamatepec), del 22 de Julio al 21 de Agosto 1992: San Salvador, Publicacion Especial, Centro de Investiagiones Geotecnicas, 13 p.

Giggenbach, W.F., Garcia, N., Londono, C., Rodriguez, L., Rojas, N., and Calvache, M., 1990, The chemistry of fumarolic vapor and thermal-spring discharges from the Nevado del Ruiz volcanic-magmatic-hydrothermal system, Colombia: J. Volcanol. Geoth. Res. 42, p. 13-40.

Geologic Background. Santa Ana, El Salvador's highest volcano, is a massive, dominantly andesitic-to-trachyandesitic stratovolcano that rises immediately W of Coatepeque caldera. Collapse of Santa Ana (also known as Ilamatepec) during the late Pleistocene produced a voluminous debris avalanche that swept into the Pacific Ocean, forming the Acajutla Peninsula. Reconstruction of the volcano subsequently filled most of the collapse scarp. The broad summit is cut by several crescentic craters, and a series of parasitic vents and cones have formed along a 20-km-long fissure system that extends from near the town of Chalchuapa NNW of the volcano to the San Marcelino and Cerro la Olla cinder cones on the SE flank. Historical activity, largely consisting of small-to-moderate explosive eruptions from both summit and flank vents, has been documented since the 16th century. The San Marcelino cinder cone on the SE flank produced a lava flow in 1722 that traveled 13 km E.

Information Contacts: Demetrio Escobar and Marisa Orantes, Centro de Investigaciones Geotecnicas (CIG), Calle Antigua La Chacra, Costado Oriente de Talleres "El Coro," PP 109 San Salvador, El Salvador; Alain Bernard, Université Libre de Bruxelles 160/02 50, Ave. Roosevelt, 1050 Brussels, Belgium; William L. Rose, Department of Geological Engineering and Sciences, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI 49931, USA; Otoniel Matias and Gustavo Chigna, INSIVUMEH, 7a Av. 14-57, Zona 13, Guatemala City, Guatemala; James Vallance, Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 2K6, Canada.