Report on San Miguel (El Salvador) — February 2002

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 27, no. 2 (February 2002)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

San Miguel (El Salvador) Minor gas-and-ash emission in January 2002; summary of earlier activity

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2002. Report on San Miguel (El Salvador). In: Wunderman, R (ed.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 27:2. Smithsonian Institution.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin

San Miguel

El Salvador

13.434°N, 88.269°W; summit elev. 2130 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

On 16 January 2002 a gas-and-steam plume containing a little ash rose with a mushroom-like profile a few hundred meters above the summit crater of San Miguel. During a visit to the summit on 28-29 January, Demetrio Escobar and a group from Michigan Technological University observed a thin layer of ash inside the summit crater produced by the 16 January event. COSPEC measurements of 100 metric tons/day were recorded at a time that the plume from San Miguel rose about 100 m above the crater rim. Long-period earthquakes, volcanic tremor, and explosion events were recorded at San Miguel in late January and February. This style of increased seismicity and gas emission is within the range of normal activity at San Miguel, and the Servicio Geologico de El Salvador concluded that this activity was no cause for alarm, but planned the installation of more telemetry seismic stations.

The events at San Miguel received extensive coverage in the local press, which had previously reported ash eruptions on 25 December 2001. However, during field studies around the volcano during 4-6 January by Escobar and Craig Chesner, extensive interviews of local residents revealed that the report of ashfall was incorrect. Vigorous steam plumes from the volcano had been confused with fly ash from the burning of sugar cane fields.

Summary of previous activity. Intermittent periods of vigorous steam-and-gas emission from San Miguel have been commonly reported in recent years. On at least two occasions, in early 1995 and at the end of December 1997, minor gas-and-ash emissions had occurred. Although discussed previously in BGVN 20:03, Escobar provided additional information on the 1995 event. Elevated seismicity and gas emission occurred at San Miguel from 26 December 1994 to 11 January 1995.

On 12 January 1995 Escobar visited the volcano and heard jet-like sounds at the crater, along with probable small explosions. Gas emission formed a plume about 100 m high that was blown to the SW. Escobar found 3-4 mm of ash in the summit crater. He also observed fine ashfall deposits on the SW flank and measured up to 2-3 mm of gray ash on the NW flank at a distance of 3 km from the crater. Residents reported that the ashfall caused damage to coffee plantations.

Elevated seismicity continued, and similar conditions were observed during a visit to the crater in February 1995. On 20 March the telemetered seismic station worked only 11 hours, but registered 48 events, including 4 volcanic tremor events and 39 LP events. Three events were felt by residents living near the volcano.

At the time of a 23-24 April 1995 visit, residents reported they had not felt any seismic events, but that ashfall had occurred on 19 April following a rainstorm. Seismicity returned to normal in May of that year.

On 17 June 1996 seismic stations registered a seismic swarm at San Miguel volcano during 1128 to 1333, consisting of 24 volcano-tectonic events with a maximum magnitude of 2.5. No felt events were reported.

Residents living near the volcano reported minor ashfall on 31 December 1997, although no geologists were present to document the ashfall distribution. On 13 January 2000, volcanic tremor was recorded for 15 minutes. On 25 January, 17 minutes of tremor occurred, along with explosion events. During May tremor was recorded for a total of 2.5 hours, and intervals of long-period earthquakes, volcanic tremor and explosion events occurred later in the year.

On 26 August 2000 a lahar from San Miguel damaged houses and a highway N of the volcano, and a similar event on 6 September 2001 affected a highway. Previously lahars had destroyed or damaged houses and highways N of the volcano on 7 May 1985 and 28 September 1992.

Geologic Background. The symmetrical cone of San Miguel volcano, one of the most active in El Salvador, rises from near sea level to form one of the country's most prominent landmarks. The unvegetated summit rises above slopes draped with coffee plantations. A broad, deep crater complex that has been frequently modified by historical eruptions (recorded since the early 16th century) caps the truncated summit, also known locally as Chaparrastique. Radial fissures on the flanks of the basaltic-andesitic volcano have fed a series of historical lava flows, including several erupted during the 17th-19th centuries that reached beyond the base of the volcano on the N, NE, and SE sides. The SE-flank flows are the largest and form broad, sparsely vegetated lava fields crossed by highways and a railroad skirting the base of the volcano. The location of flank vents has migrated higher on the edifice during historical time, and the most recent activity has consisted of minor ash eruptions from the summit crater.

Information Contacts: Carlos Pullinger and Demetrio Escobar, Seccion Vulcanologia, Servicio Geológico de El Salvador, c/o Servicio Nacional de Estudios Territoriales, Alameda Roosevelt y 55 Avenida Norte, Edificio Torre El Salvador, Quinta Planta, San Salvador, El Salvador; Gustavo Chigna, Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanologia, Meteorologia e Hidrologia (INSIVUMEH), Ministero de Communicaciones, Transporto, Obras Públicas y Vivienda, 7a. Av. 14-57, zona 13, Guatemala City 01013, Guatemala (URL:; Bill Rose, Liset Rodríguez, Gustavo Chigna, Otoniel Matías, Janelle Byman, Elly Bunzendahll, Ivonne Branan, and Matt Watson, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI 49931 USA.