Report on Santa Maria (Guatemala) — October 2003

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 28, no. 10 (October 2003)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke

Santa Maria (Guatemala) Explosions, pyroclastic flows, and night glow in October

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2003. Report on Santa Maria (Guatemala). In: Venzke, E (ed.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 28:10. Smithsonian Institution.

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Santa Maria


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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Long term eruptive activity at the Santiaguito lava-dome complex of Santa María has continued during 2003 following lahars, explosions, and pyroclastic flows reported during much of 2002 (BGVN 28:05). Plumes identified on satellite imagery between February and September 2003 were described in aviation advisories issued by the Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC). Regular reports of daily activity provided by the Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanologia, Meteorologia e Hidrologia (INSIVUMEH) on their website have been summarized for many days in the second half of October.

Satellite observations, February-September 2003. Based on GOES-8 imagery the Washington VAAC reported that explosions occurred during the evening of 16 February 2003 and the following morning. Plumes rose to 600 m above the summit, forming an ash plume that was visible on satellite imagery. Imagery from GOES-12 indicated an eruption at about 1330 on 23 July. The plume moved W and had largely dissipated by 1615 after extending ~ 80 km. Washington VAAC reported that the volcano had been active in recent days and that INSIVUMEH had reported an ash column rising to ~ 4.6 km altitude, causing ashfall on farms W of the summit.

The Washington VAAC identified another ash cloud in GOES-12 imagery on 14 August from 0715 through 0745 that was ~ 25 km long and 5 km wide. On 28 September the Washington VAAC reported an ash emission, again based on GOES-12 imagery, that reached an estimated 4.3 km altitude. By 1532 the plume appeared to have detached from the summit and begun to slowly dissipate.

Activity observed during October 2003. Weak and moderate explosions on 15 October continued to expel gray ash to heights of 300-600 m, dispersing to the W and SW. At night blocks of incandescent lava were seen down to the base of the Caliente dome. On 17 October, as during 16 October, most of the nearly 50 explosions were considered moderate, generating avalanches of block lava and ash on the SSW flanks and NE of the Caliente cone. However, at 1745 on 16 October, a strong explosion caused the collapse of a sector of the SW flank of the crater, forming a pyroclastic flow that lasted more than 3 minutes and stopped as it neared the front of the active lava flow ~ 4 km S of Santiaguito.

On 21 October, explosions sent gas-and-ash columns 200-700 m high, which were dispersed by winds to the W, causing slight ashfall of very fine particles to fall in the dome complex. During the night of 22-23 October incandescence on the edge of the crater rim of Caliente cone was observed. Avalanches lasting 3-4 minutes continued with abundant block lava and ash descending primarily down the SSW flank with a minor component to the NE. The ash columns tended to be carried W, causing fine ashfall in sparsely populated mountainous areas. On 24 October there were 26 moderate explosions, 41 weak ones, and about 20 avalanches of lava blocks and ash originating from the S edge of the lava dome in the Caliente cone crater and from the edge of the active lava flow.

During the night of 27 October incandescence along the edge of the lava dome was observed, and weak white fumarolic emissions reached ~ 200 m above the crater in the morning; explosions and avalanches persisted. On 29 October, predominantly moderate and weak explosions produced columns 200-700 m high, and very fine ash fell in nearby mountainous areas. Many of the moderate explosions produced avalanches of block lava and ash to the NE and SW. On 30 October, three small collapses of large blocks occurred from the crater rim, and more than a dozen avalanches, each preceded by explosions and lasting 2-3 minutes, produced abundant fine ash that partially covered the S flank.

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