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Report on Sabancaya (Peru) — May 1995


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 20, no. 5 (May 1995)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke.

Sabancaya (Peru) Continuing activity, eleven eruptions observed during 9-10 May

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1995. Report on Sabancaya (Peru) (Venzke, E., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 20:5. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199505-354006



15.787°S, 71.857°W; summit elev. 5960 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

During a 2-day visit to Sabancaya, 11 eruptions were witnessed, 5 on 9 May and 6 on 10 May. The repose periods varied in duration from 35-160 minutes, with a mean of 125 minutes on both days. All of the eruptions started with the quiet emission of a white vapor plume followed tens of seconds later by a rapidly rising cloud of vapor and ash. Each eruption progressed from the S vent to the two N vents, and typically lasted 5-15 minutes.

Throughout the eruptions only a few blocks were ejected from the crater as seen from the foot of the cone, ~500 m from the crater rim. No "cannon-like" explosions were seen or heard. The talus apron at the foot of the cone consisted mainly of dense blocks with abundant thermal cracks, and minor amounts of poorly vesiculated scoria.

Plume height varied between 1 and 4 km above the crater, though usually the plumes rose ~2-2.5 km. Eruptions were typically followed by emission of a quiet, slowly rising white-blue plume; these plumes drifted to the SW and S on 9 May and S and E on 10 May. The presence of ash on Sabancaya and the adjacent Ampato volcano caused enhanced ice-melting during daytime hours, creating continuous small mudflows.

Although observations were not as detailed, activity on 11 May was apparently much less than on 9-10 May with only three reported eruptions, one being purely phreatic (white vapor).

Vulcanian activity has persisted at varying intensity levels since ash emission began in late May 1990 (BGVN 15:05, 15:06, 16:05, and 17:01). During the previous visit to the volcano in March 1994 (BGVN 19:03), scientists observed explosions, classified tephra layers, and carried out hazard-zone mapping. Unstable lava domes continue to threaten the 35,000 inhabitants living in the Rio Colca and Siguas valleys. Sabancaya remains ice-covered and poses a potential risk to the Majes River irrigation canal project if a moderate-to-large eruption were to occur. Of particular concern is an eruption that might melt the ice on both Sabancaya and Ampato volcanoes.

Geological Summary. Sabancaya, located in the saddle NE of Ampato and SE of Hualca Hualca volcanoes, is the youngest of these volcanic centers and the only one to have erupted in historical time. The oldest of the three, Nevado Hualca Hualca, is of probable late-Pliocene to early Pleistocene age. The name Sabancaya (meaning "tongue of fire" in the Quechua language) first appeared in records in 1595 CE, suggesting activity prior to that date. Holocene activity has consisted of Plinian eruptions followed by emission of voluminous andesitic and dacitic lava flows, which form an extensive apron around the volcano on all sides but the south. Records of historical eruptions date back to 1750.

Information Contacts: Jean-Luc Le Pennec, Centre ORSTOM de Brest, BP 70, 29 280 Plouzane, France; Francois Legros, Universite Blaise Pascal, Departement des Sciences de la Terre, 5 rue Kessler, 63038 Clermont-Ferrand, France; Anibal Rodriguez and Miguel Uribe, Instituto Geofísico del Perú, Arequipa, Perú; Jean-Claude Thouret and Alain Gourgaud, Centre de Recherches Volcanologiques, 5 rue Kessler, 63038 Clermont-Ferrand, France.