Report on Santa Maria (Guatemala) — May 2003

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 28, no. 5 (May 2003)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke

Santa Maria (Guatemala) Lahars during January-October 2002; explosions and pyroclastic flows

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2003. Report on Santa Maria (Guatemala). In: Venzke, E (ed.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 28:5. Smithsonian Institution.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin |  Download PDF [future] |  Export Citation [future]

Santa Maria


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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

At Santiaguito, the active lava-flow front continued to generate ash plumes through early 2002 (BGVN 27:05). INSIVUMEH reported that during January-October 2002, activity at Santiaguito included lahars, explosions, growth of the lava dome, and collapses from the Caliente dome. The main lahar during that period occurred on 8 January 2002. Farmers in the Monte Claro area heard rockfalls on the W flank. Field inspections near the San Isidro ravine showed an abundance of material deposited by mudflows and other volcanic debris, mainly fine ash. These deposits formed ash knolls called "hummocks." The San Isidro ravine begins at the Nimá II river, now covered by the SW lava flow, which created a dam ~200-300 m high. A rupture of the dam in the high part of the Brujo dome contributed fine material and blocks to the high-velocity lahar, which traveled ~4 km until it was stopped by old landslide deposits.

At the height of the Property Florida, there are old lahar deposits, possibly from the eruptions of Santa Maria in 1902 and/or Santiaguito in 1929, with blocks of 1, 2, 3, and 5 m in diameter. With the arrival of the rainy season, San Isidro, which became a new channel for lahars from May to October, had at least six "strong" lahars. The active lava flow from July 1999 had stopped its advance in the channel of the Nimá II river as of April 2002.

Since renewal of activity in April and May 2002, a new lava flow had been advancing on top of the high part of the existing lava flow, in front of the Santiaguito viewpoint. This constant movement was filling up the ravine that divided the lava flow from the El Faro farm. The new lava flow quickly built a small lobe reaching ~300 m high. It advanced in a fan shape toward the S and W flanks, with continuous collapses from the front.

A volcanic ash advisory issued on 16 August was based on a report from INSIVUMEH about a dome collapse with some near-summit ash. However, no ash was evident in GOES-8 satellite imagery. After 29 August there were frequent collapses from the crater rim of the Caliente cone, generating pyroclastic flows that extended to the base of the domes. The greatest collapse occurred on 3 October, accompanied by a strong explosion and several pyroclastic flows that descended all flanks of the volcano at high speeds, covering the volcano completely in a few minutes and producing abundant ashfall on the SW flank. During October there were continued collapses of the crater rim.

In the early hours of 17 October the inhabitants of the El Faro and La Florida farms, and areas such as Palmar Nuevo and part of San Felipe Retalhuleu, heard a strong explosion. At OVSAN (Vulcanológico Observatory of Santiaguito Volcano), this activity was felt, and a collapse of the dome from the edge of the crater was seen. After 19 October moderate and strong explosions occurred at a rate of 3-5 per hour, some accompanied by rumblings. There was also an increase in the number of phreatomagmatic ash explosions that sent abundant gray ash 800-1,200 m high, dispersed mainly on the SW flank. In November observers reported constant collapses of the SE and E lava flows. On the morning of 11 November there was a series of collapses from the S lava flow, and heavy ashfall on the seismic station housing.

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 Gustavo Chigna, Unit of Volcanology, Geologic Department of Investigation and Services, Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanologia, Meteorologia e Hidrologia (INSIVUMEH), 7a Av. 14-57, Zona 13, Guatemala City, Guatemala; Washington VAAC, Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB), NOAA/NESDIS E/SP23, NOAA Science Center Room 401, 5200 Auth Road, Camp Springs, MD 20746, USA (URL: