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Report on Pacaya (Guatemala) — September 1991


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 16, no. 9 (September 1991)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Pacaya (Guatemala) Vigorous explosions and lava fountaining

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1991. Report on Pacaya (Guatemala) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 16:9. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199109-342110



14.382°N, 90.601°W; summit elev. 2569 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

A strong explosive phase occurred on 22 August, after 3 weeks of relative quiet that followed strong explosive activity from 6 June to 1 August. Volcanologists visiting the summit observed an increase in fumarolic activity beginning at 1400, and the start of small explosions 20 minutes later. The frequency and sound of the explosions increased, and by 1425, lapilli and blocks were rising above the rim of the crater, before falling back into the interior. Between 1,500 and 1630 the explosions increased in size, feeding a continuous lava fountain 100-200 m high. The eruption entered its most vigorous period at 1700, with a black plume 1,000 m high, and explosions heard to 1 km from the crater. Activity declined 1710-1730, as lava fountaining was replaced by strong black plume emission that gradually ceased.

The summit was visited again on 20 September, two days after strong explosions were observed from Guatemala City (45 km N). Fresh bombs, flattened on impact, with crystal-rich interiors, covered the E part of MacKenney Cone. The explosions on 18 September coincided with the last in a 24-hour series of earthquakes that killed at least 25 people. The largest shock [M 6.1 at 5 km depth] was centered about [30 km NNW] of the volcano.

Geological Summary. Eruptions from Pacaya are frequently visible from Guatemala City, the nation's capital. This complex basaltic volcano was constructed just outside the southern topographic rim of the 14 x 16 km Pleistocene Amatitlán caldera. A cluster of dacitic lava domes occupies the southern caldera floor. The post-caldera Pacaya massif includes the older Pacaya Viejo and Cerro Grande stratovolcanoes and the currently active Mackenney stratovolcano. Collapse of Pacaya Viejo between 600 and 1,500 years ago produced a debris-avalanche deposit that extends 25 km onto the Pacific coastal plain and left an arcuate scarp inside which the modern Pacaya volcano (Mackenney cone) grew. The NW-flank Cerro Chino crater was last active in the 19th century. During the past several decades, activity has consisted of frequent Strombolian eruptions with intermittent lava flow extrusion that has partially filled in the caldera moat and covered the flanks of Mackenney cone, punctuated by occasional larger explosive eruptions that partially destroy the summit.

Information Contacts: Franck Pothé, Sallanches, France; Sección de Vulcanología, INSIVUMEH; USGS NEIC.