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Report on Galeras (Colombia) — January 1993


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 18, no. 1 (January 1993)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Galeras (Colombia) Further details on 14 January explosion; SO2 output increasing

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1993. Report on Galeras (Colombia) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 18:1. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199301-351080



1.22°N, 77.37°W; summit elev. 4276 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The following, from Stanley Williams and Setsuya Nakada, supplements information on the 14 January eruption. We are pleased to report that Williams is recovering well from his injuries.

Galeras first became active in early 1988, not in 1989 as previously reported, when soldiers occupying a communications post on the rim observed increased gas emissions, rockfalls, and felt earthquakes. Magmatic gases were sampled in December 1988.

Nakada, 2.1 km NE of the crater, first felt and heard the 14 January explosion, which sounded similar to a dynamite explosion, at 1340. Thick clouds over the summit area limited visibility. The noise quickly changed to a clattering sound, with the sound of rolling stones within the crater continuing for ~20 minutes. About 10 minutes after the eruption there was a 15-minute shower of small (a few mm across) scattered lithics.

INGEOMINAS reports that seismicity was low, 2-8 long-period events/day, during the first two weeks of January. Seventeen "screw-type" events (1-3 Hz frequencies and long codas compared to their amplitudes) thought to be associated with movement of fluids in a cavity, were recorded 1-14 January. Similar seismicity was recorded prior to the 16 July 1992 eruption. The seismic signal associated with the 14 January eruption lasted ~15 minutes, with the eruption [occurring] during the first 6 minutes and 24 seconds. The remainder of the signal consisted of a tremor episode accompanied by long-period events. The event was identified as impulsive-compressive, a typical explosive seismic form characterized by initial low-frequency activity, with a mix of higher frequencies following the eruption. Data are from the "OBONUCO" station, 5.8 km SE of the crater, operated by the Andean Geophysical Institute. The total of 761 long-period events occurred during the 18 hours following the eruption, with 611 in the first 12 hours; the largest occurrence recorded since monitoring began in 1989. There were a maximum was 50 events/hour, some associated with gas release. Seismicity then returned to the low levels of previous months, with the exception of two relatively long, very low frequency tremor episodes (to 6.5 minutes). Similar tremor episodes were associated with the lava dome emplacement (July-December 1991). High-frequency seismicity was most significant during the first days of January, averaging 3 earthquakes/day, with magnitudes of 1.2-2.2. Most were located near the active crater.

SO2 flux measured by COSPEC ranged from 8 to 194 t/d on 14-18 January and 81-562 t/d later in the month. Fumarolic activity was low on the 16th and 19th, with little to no audible noise outside the caldera. New fumarolic activity was observed at the S edge of the main crater. Analysis of ash from the eruption showed a juvenile component (associated with liquid magma), altered material (from the conduit and the surrounding area), and some contribution from the dome that was destroyed in 1992. The only noticeable morphological change, a cone in the main crater, was a result of the explosion.

Fumaroles near the site of the explosion, inside the crater, were visited on 26 November 1992 by José Arlés Zapata and Néstor García (both of whom were killed in the eruption), Héctor Cepeda, Marino Martini, and Franco Prati. The temperature of the gas sample was 642°C (table 6). The composition of gases implies production directly from magmatic fluids, with minor contributions from shallow aquifers.

Table 6. Analysis of gases collected at Galeras (26 November 1992) and Puracé (28 November 1992). Percentages shown are for dry gas. Courtesy of M. Martini.

Gas Galeras Puracé
CO2 70.23 73.84
SO2 9.90 14.66
H2S 6.72 3.25
HCl 8.36 7.53
HF 0.73 0.041
H2 3.35 0.0034
CO 0.16 0.0005
N2 0.48 0.62
H 0.0037 --
B -- 0.042
Vol % H20 91.48 98.09
Temp 642°C 170°C

The following interpretation of the eruption is from John Stix, who attended the workshop. "The most recent period of unrest at Galeras (1988-present) has been characterized by strong non-eruptive degassing. This is seen visually, with the COSPEC, and using glass inclusion studies that indicate degassing in the magma chamber and conduit. After explosive eruptions in May 1989, the SO2 flux in 1989-90 was huge (up to 5,000-10,000 t/d). By mid-1991, SO2 had declined and the lava dome was emplaced in October-November 1991, accompanied by deformation and long-period seismicity due to shallow degassing as the magma ascended. After November 1991, SO2 declined dramatically, as did the long-period seismicity. What may have happened was similar to Usu in 1977-1980; a small amount of magma was emplaced at shallow levels and erupted as a lava dome. Then, after November 1991, this magma became isolated from its source, just sitting in place stewing, cooling, and crystallizing, without much movement. The dome may have acted as a plug, so that the degassing of the partly solidified magma by crystallization created overpressurized gas-rich pockets. Visually, most of the surface degassing was occurring from fumaroles on the outer flank of the inner crater, suggesting that the magma could degas more easily along the conduit margins. Not only did the magma become more degassed over time, but due to the sealing of the system, gas-rich pockets could form because there was still some magma that crystallized and continued to degas.

"Since the 16 July eruption, gas pressure was building beneath the surface of the inner crater. This gas was trapped in the pore spaces of relatively impermeable rock, so overpressure likely developed. After a certain point, the rock ruptured and the eruption of 14 January ensued. It is also possible that the eruption was initiated phreatically. There was intense long period seismicity after the eruption, lasting until the next afternoon and decaying to levels comparable to those before the eruption. It seems that the partially solidified magma, emplaced as a lava dome in the inner crater (October-November 1991), degassed intensely for a day due to the removal of the overlying material. After 24 hours, most of this gas had been released, so the seismicity and SO2 flux returned to pre-eruption levels. By 16 January, when COSPEC flights began, the SO2 flux was very low (<100 t/d). Thus, with both the seismicity and COSPEC data, we were able to say that new, gas rich magma had probably not moved to shallow levels. Thus, the volcano was less dangerous after the eruption than initially thought. This kind of hazard has unfortunately not been appreciated, and is very difficult to predict at Galeras with the current monitoring configuration because there are so few changes prior to such an eruption."

Geological Summary. Galeras, a stratovolcano with a large breached caldera located immediately west of the city of Pasto, is one of Colombia's most frequently active volcanoes. The dominantly andesitic complex has been active for more than 1 million years, and two major caldera collapse eruptions took place during the late Pleistocene. Long-term extensive hydrothermal alteration has contributed to large-scale edifice collapse on at least three occasions, producing debris avalanches that swept to the west and left a large open caldera inside which the modern cone has been constructed. Major explosive eruptions since the mid-Holocene have produced widespread tephra deposits and pyroclastic flows that swept all but the southern flanks. A central cone slightly lower than the caldera rim has been the site of numerous small-to-moderate eruptions since the time of the Spanish conquistadors.

Information Contacts: M. Calvache, INGEOMINAS, Pasto; H. Cepeda, INGEOMINAS, Popayán; M. Martini, Univ di Firenze; S. Nakada, Kyushu Univ; S. Williams, Arizona State Univ; J. Stix, Univ de Montreal.