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Report on Colima (Mexico) — April 1991


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 16, no. 4 (April 1991)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Colima (Mexico) Lava advances down SW flank after partial collapse of summit dome; rock avalanches from flow margins

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1991. Report on Colima (Mexico) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 16:4. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199104-341040



19.514°N, 103.62°W; summit elev. 3850 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The following is from Ana Lillian Martín del Pozzo and colleagues.

The new summit-dome lobe grew from about 6 m high and 20 m in diameter on 2 March to 36 m high and 109 m across on 14 April, but geodetic measurements on 15 April showed a reduction in its diameter due to the beginning of its emplacement down the SW flank. Seismicity recorded by four portable seismographs increased dramatically beginning on 12 April, saturating records; avalanche signals and both A-and B-type events were detected. Most seismicity after 15 April was related to avalanching (see also seismic data from RESCO instruments reported in 16:03). During the morning of 16 April, avalanching from the dome occurred every 3-5 minutes, increasing to constant landsliding about noon. Large Merapi-type avalanches began around 1515, with maximum intensity between 1700 and 1800. During that time, three distinct plumes were visible: a white gas column, fine gray ash being carried E, and fine-grained material produced by the avalanches. Colima airport was closed because of ashfall, although <5 mm of ash were measured there. Data from four dry-tilt stations N and S of the summit showed <10 µrad of deformation for the period 14-23 April. Weekly spring-water monitoring showed no pH or temperature changes, although sulfate and boron contents varied, having increased before 16 April. Declines in the levels of nearby lakes appear to have been caused by normal withdrawal of irrigation water.

The following is from a Centro Internacional de Ciencias de la Tierra (CICT) team, including geologists and geophysicists from the Universidad de Colima, UNAM, Univ de Guadalajara, Arizona State, and Louisiana State Universities.

Avalanches generated voluminous dilute dust clouds, mainly produced by the crumbling of blocks falling from the dome and the receding crater rim, and by reactivation of previously deposited dust. The component of hot new magma apparently contributed to the seemingly fluidized character of the avalanches [and the resulting Merapi-type block-and-ash flows].

After the partial collapse of the summit-dome lobe, a block lava flow emerged from the SW part of the dome and began to move down the SW flank. The flow, 70 m long and 40 m wide on 18 April, was about 100 m wide and at least 1,150 m long by the morning of 26 April, with its 25-m-thick front at 2,680 m altitude. Dimensions were similar on 18 May, and the flow was widening at its top. Small avalanches occurred from the flow front, from the crater rim adjacent to the flow levees, and from the levees themselves, especially the E levee. Blocks reached about 2,300 m elevation (~4,000 m outward from the summit) during the largest avalanche associated with the 16 April collapse. Dust clouds extended beyond the range of the avalanche blocks, and three canyons of the volcano's main drainage system on the SW and S flanks were filled with avalanche-derived clastic material, mostly very fine powder. This material has not been compacted and has a volume on the order of 106 m3. A lahar warning has been issued for the coming rainy season, which usually begins in early June. Lava extruded from the SW part of the dome was pushing older dome material toward the W and NW. Unstable material was accumulating, and geologists noted that additional avalanches could be expected in those areas.

Winds in the area have dominantly blown toward the SE to NE recently, and some light ashfall has been reported from towns in that sector up to 30 km away. Seismic records showed events with small wave packages that at times seemed to correlate with explosive summit degassing activity, but their number and amplitude were decreasing as of late April.

Observations of the summit area revealed that the 2 July 1987 crater on the E side of the dome (Flores and others, 1987, and 12:07, 13:09, and 15:12) had a ring-like pattern of fumaroles around its rim. A pair of whitish plumes persistently issued from the N part of the zone of lava extrusion, where some incandescence has been observed. Plume heights during similar wind conditions ranged from a few tens of meters to 1,500 m. As of 18 May, the summit-dome lobe was growing toward the edge of the pre-existing W dome. Geologists noted that if activity continues at the same rate, a new block lava flow will begin to develop, probably on the W or NW side of the volcano, in the next 2-3 weeks.

Airborne COSPEC measurements that began 25 April showed SO2 emission rates on the order of 300 t/d, similar to those observed in 1982 by Casadevall and others (1984) and in 1985 by geologists from Dartmouth College. Geologists noted that these stable low levels were consistent with the absence of significant deep seismicity or harmonic tremor and support an interpretation that the present cycle of activity does not include the ascent of significant new magma or magmatic gases from depth.

Alert warnings have been issued and transportation made available for possible evacuation of towns in the risk area, which extends to 12 km on the SW flank. However, geologists noted that no evacuations have occurred, since the volume of rock avalanches was limited to a few hundred thousand m3 and seismicity has remained at relatively low levels, without harmonic tremor or low-frequency earthquakes.

The following, from J.B. Murray, describes ground deformation work 1-7 March.

"Ten kilometers of levelling lines, established in 1982, were measured 1-4 March, as were five of six dry-tilt stations. The 6th, on the W side of the cone, could not be measured, because repeated rock avalanches from the dome made it extremely hazardous to approach this side of the mountain.

"The levelling traverse was last occupied in March 1990, and results show that there have been no large changes since then. There was a slight subsidence of the stations nearest to the summit (just over 1 km from the dome), which have dropped 2.5 cm relative to the farthest stations, 3 km from the summit and outside the caldera. Within the precision of the method, the subsidence appears to be radial to the summit, or perhaps between the summit and the parasitic vent Volcancito (on the upper NE flank).

"The three dry-tilt stations within the caldera all showed tilts to the S over the past year. Those on the Playon (the caldera floor at the NW foot of the active cone) had small tilts of 9 and 15 µrad. The station on Volcancito has tilted 39 µrad, although this value is less reliable because the combination of benchmarks used was different than in 1990. The other two stations (at Nevado de Colima and Barranca La Arena), 6 km N and 9 km S of the summit, were vandalized or otherwise disturbed.

"At first sight these results appear reassuring, as one would expect more pronounced deformation if there were any major increase in magma supply that might be associated with a cataclysmic event. However, caution must be exercised, since (a) ground deformation prior to a major eruption has not been measured at Colima before, and is poorly known on this type of volcano, and (b) the levelling traverse and two of the three dry-tilt stations are N of the volcano where the ground rises toward Nevado de Colima, whereas most of the deformation could be occurring on the unbutressed S flank.

"Many large rock avalanches were seen on 1 March, but from 2 March, the rate declined somewhat. During the levelling 2-4 March, avalanches were noted at the overall rate of 3.2/hour down the N and W sides. From the same area, avalanches were noted at the hourly rate of 1.4 on 29 March-1 April 1990; 0.4 on 4-5 February 1986; and 1.5 on 3-7 December 1982. These figures underplay the 1991 activity, because the avalanches were much larger this year and continued for much longer."

References. Casadevall, T.J., Rose, W.I., Fuller, W., Hunt, W., Hart, M., Moyers, J., Woods, D., Chuan, R., and Friend, J., 1984, Sulfur dioxide and particles in quiescent volcanic plumes from Poás, Arenal, and Colima Volcanoes, Costa Rica and México: JGR, v. 89, no. D6, p. 9633-9641.

Flores, J., and others, 1987, Informes de las recientes observaciones practicadas en el Volcán Colima: Revista del Instituto de Geografía y Estadística, Universidad de Guadalajara, México, v. 3, no. 2.

Further Reference. Rodríguez-Elizarrías, S., Siebe, C., Komorowski, J.-C., Espindola, J., and Saucedo, R., 1991, Field observations of pristine block- and-ash-flow deposits emplaced April 16-17, 1991 at Volcán de Colima, Mexico: JVGR, v. 48, p. 399-412.

Geological Summary. The Colima complex is the most prominent volcanic center of the western Mexican Volcanic Belt. It consists of two southward-younging volcanoes, Nevado de Colima (the high point of the complex) on the north and the historically active Volcán de Colima at the south. A group of late-Pleistocene cinder cones is located on the floor of the Colima graben west and east of the complex. Volcán de Colima (also known as Volcán Fuego) is a youthful stratovolcano constructed within a 5-km-wide scarp, breached to the south, that has been the source of large debris avalanches. Major slope failures have occurred repeatedly from both the Nevado and Colima cones, producing thick debris-avalanche deposits on three sides of the complex. Frequent recorded eruptions date back to the 16th century. Occasional major explosive eruptions have destroyed the summit (most recently in 1913) and left a deep, steep-sided crater that was slowly refilled and then overtopped by lava dome growth.

Information Contacts: Francisco Núñez-Cornú, F.A. Nava, Gilberto Ornelas-Arciniega, Ariel Ramírez-Vázquez, R. Saucedo, G.A. Reyes-Dávila, R. García, Guillermo Castellanos, and Hector Tamez, CICT, Universidad de Colima; S. de la Cruz-Reyna, Z. Jiménez, J.M. Espindola, and Sergio Rodríguez, UNAM; Julián Flores, Instituto de Geografía y Estadística, Univ de Guadalajara; Claus Siebe and J-C. Komorowski, Arizona State Univ, USA; S. Williams, Louisiana State Univ, USA.Ana Lillian Martín del Pozzo, J. Panohaya, F. Sánchez, R. Maciel, and A. Aguayo, Instituto de Geofísica, UNAM; D. Barrera, Centro de Ciencias de la Tierra, Univ de Guadalajara; G. González, Univ Autónoma de Puebla; J.B. Murray, Open Univ, UK.