Cerro Prieto

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  • Country
  • Volcanic Region
  • Primary Volcano Type
  • Last Known Eruption
  • 32.418°N
  • 115.305°W

  • 223 m
    731 ft

  • 341000
  • Latitude
  • Longitude

  • Summit
    Elevation

  • Volcano
    Number

The Global Volcanism Program has no activity reports for Cerro Prieto.

The Global Volcanism Program has no Weekly Reports available for Cerro Prieto.

The Global Volcanism Program has no Bulletin Reports available for Cerro Prieto.

The Cerro Prieto geothermal field is located at the head of the Gulf of California, 35 km south of the city of Mexicali. Cerro Prieto lies in an active continental rift that is transitional between the transform San Andreas fault system to the north and a spreading ridge of the East Pacific Rise in the Gulf of California to the south. The only surficial volcanic feature at Cerro Prieto, which is located near sea level on the Colorado River delta, is a small, 223-m-high compound dacitic lava dome. A 200-m-wide crater is located at the summit of the NE-most dome. The Cerro Prieto dome was roughly estimated from paleomagnetic evidence to have formed during a series of events between 100,000 and 10,000 years ago. Cucupas Indian legends described a monster that covered the land with hot rocks, which grew through the soil and emitted fire tongues, a possible reference to the growth of the volcano.

The Global Volcanism Program is not aware of any Holocene eruptions from Cerro Prieto. If this volcano has had large eruptions (VEI >= 4) prior to 10,000 years ago, information might be found on the Cerro Prieto page in the LaMEVE (Large Magnitude Explosive Volcanic Eruptions) database, a part of the Volcano Global Risk Identification and Analysis Project (VOGRIPA).

The Global Volcanism Program has no synonyms or subfeatures listed for Cerro Prieto.

The Cerro Prieto geothermal field on the Colorado River delta in NW México is the second largest producing geothermal field in North America, next only to the Geysers field in California. This view shows the Unit 1 power plant. Exploration drilling at Cerro Prieto began in 1959. By the mid-1980s more than 100 wells had been drilled to depths as great as 3.5 km. Despite the paucity of surface volcanic features at Cerro Prieto, the hydrothermal system covers an area of more than 100 sq km.

Photo by Pat Dobson, 1998 (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory).
Cerro Prieto lava dome is reflected in an evaporation pond of the Cerro Prieto geothermal field at the head of the Gulf of California, 35 km south of the city of Mexicali. The first geothermal power plants began operation at Cerro Prieto in 1973, and the field is now the 2nd largest in North America. Nine power plants and about 130 wells were in operation in 1997, with four more power plants under construction.

Photo by Pat Dobson, 1998 (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory).
Cerro Prieto ("Dark Hill"), a small, 223-m-high compound rhyodacitic lava dome, is the only surficial volcanic feature of the major Cerro Prieto geothermal field, the 2nd largest in North America. Cerro Prieto is the northernmost volcanic field in México and rises above the arid floor of the Imperial valley at the head of the Gulf of California, 35 km south of the city of Mexicali. The dome consists of rhyodacitic intrusives and lava flows and was constructed along a NE-trending fracture. A 200-m-wide crater is located at the summit of the NE-most dome.

Photo by Marshall Reed, 1959 (U.S. Department of Energy).
The small black circle at the left-center margin surrounded by a light-colored geothermal area is Cerro Prieto. This U2 photo was taken from the NE at an altitude of 60,000 feet. The Sierra de los Cucapas trend diagonally across the center of the photo above arkosic sands of the Cucapas bajada. Beyond the range is Laguna Salada. The Peninsula Ranges are in the background with clouds and fog beyond over the Pacific Ocean. Some of the foreground farmlands were condemned prior to development of the geothermal field.

Photo by U.S. Air Force (courtesy of Marshall Reed, U.S. Department of Energy).
The small, 223-m-high Cerro Prieto compound rhyodacitic lava dome is the only surficial volcanic expression of the Cerro Prieto geothermal field. A 200-m-wide crater is located at the summit of the NE-most dome. The Cerro Prieto dome was roughly estimated from paleomagnetic evidence to have formed during at least five eruptive stages, including both magmatic and phreatic activity, between about 100,000 and 10,000 years ago. Early explorers in the mid 1500s reported steam and sulfurous gases at Cerro Prieto.

Photo by Brian Hausback, 1995 (California State University, Sacramento).

The following references have all been used during the compilation of data for this volcano, it is not a comprehensive bibliography. Discussion of another volcano or eruption (sometimes far from the one that is the subject of the manuscript) may produce a citation that is not at all apparent from the title.

Beal C H, 1948. Reconnaissance of the geology and oil possibilities of Baja California, Mexico. Geol Soc Amer Mem, 31: 1-138.

de Boer J Z, 1980. Paleomagnetism of the Quaternary Cerro Prieto, Crater Elegante, and Salton Buttes volcanic domes in the northern part of the Gulf of California rhombochasm. Proc 2nd Symp Cerro Prieto Geotherm Field, Baja Calif, Mexico, p 91-102.

Gastil R G, Phillips R P, Allison E C, 1975. Reconnaissance geology of the State of Baja California. Geol Soc Amer Mem, 140: 1-170.

Herzig C T, 1990. Geochemistry of igneous rocks from the Cerro Prieto geothermal field, northern Baja California, Mexico. J Volc Geotherm Res, 42: 261-271.

Medina F, Suarez F, Espindola J M, 1989. Historic and Holocene volcanic centers in NW Mexico. Bull Volc Eruptions, 26: 91-93.

Reed M J, 1976. Geology and hydrothermal metamorphism in the Cerro Prieto geothermal field, Mexico. In: {Proc 2nd United Nations Symp Devel Use Geotherm Resour, San Francisco}, Washington D C: U S Government Printing Office, 1: 539-547.

Reed M J, 1984. Relationship between volcanism and hydrothermal activity at Cerro Prieto, Mexico. Trans Geotherm Res Council, 8: 217-221.

Volcano Types

Lava dome

Tectonic Setting

Rift zone
Continental crust (> 25 km)

Rock Types

Major
Dacite
Basalt / Picro-Basalt
Andesite / Basaltic Andesite
Rhyolite

Population

Within 5 km
Within 10 km
Within 30 km
Within 100 km
4,506
15,945
571,710
1,308,761

Affiliated Databases

Large Eruptions of Cerro Prieto Information about large Quaternary eruptions (VEI >= 4) is cataloged in the Large Magnitude Explosive Volcanic Eruptions (LaMEVE) database of the Volcano Global Risk Identification and Analysis Project (VOGRIPA).
WOVOdat WOVOdat is a database of volcanic unrest; instrumentally and visually recorded changes in seismicity, ground deformation, gas emission, and other parameters from their normal baselines. It is sponsored by the World Organization of Volcano Observatories (WOVO) and presently hosted at the Earth Observatory of Singapore.
EarthChem EarthChem develops and maintains databases, software, and services that support the preservation, discovery, access and analysis of geochemical data, and facilitate their integration with the broad array of other available earth science parameters. EarthChem is operated by a joint team of disciplinary scientists, data scientists, data managers and information technology developers who are part of the NSF-funded data facility Integrated Earth Data Applications (IEDA). IEDA is a collaborative effort of EarthChem and the Marine Geoscience Data System (MGDS).
Smithsonian Collections Search the Smithsonian's NMNH Department of Mineral Sciences collections database. Go to the "Search Rocks and Ores" tab and use the Volcano Name drop-down to find samples.