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Report on Arenal (Costa Rica) — May 1997


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 22, no. 5 (May 1997)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Arenal (Costa Rica) New pyroclastic cone noted in May

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1997. Report on Arenal (Costa Rica) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 22:5. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199705-345033


Costa Rica

10.463°N, 84.703°W; summit elev. 1670 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

During April OVSICORI-UNA scientists noted a decrease in eruptive vigor and seismicity at Arenal compared to the previous month. Lavas erupted beginning in January 1997 advanced during April to reach an elevation of ~800 m on the N flank; lavas erupted in March advanced during April to reach an elevation of 1,150 m. During mid-May some advancing lava fronts had reached an elevation of about 1000 m. As has been typical during recent years, Crater D showed only fumarolic activity. Crater C erupted about 288 times during May.

Tremor occurred for as much as 15 hours/day during April, but both tremor and earthquake counts dropped by about a third compared to March, and further still during May. Nonetheless, on 16 May there were 8 hours of continuous tremor (amplitude, 18 mm; dominant frequency, 2.0-3.9 Hz). This tremor accompanied venting of new lava that traveled down the NNW flank. At least through April, the OVSICORI-UNA distance network continued to undergo radial contraction of ~22 ppm/year.

During 10-14 May, Gerardo Soto saw mild Strombolian eruptions tens of minutes apart, with ash columns up to 500 m above the crater. Although this seemed comparatively quiet, the usual vigorous summit fumarolic outgassing prevailed. A new pyroclastic cone was noted in Crater C (figure 82); it stood tens of meters high. Although the volcano lacked pyroclastic flows while he was watching, well developed pyroclastic-flow fans existed on the N and W flanks and summit.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 82. A rough sketch of Arenal as seen from the NW during 10-14 May 1997. Courtesy of Gerardo Soto, ICE.

Arenal's first chronicled eruption, in 1968, began an unbroken sequence of Strombolian explosions and basaltic andesite discharges from multiple vents. The volcano can be seen from a lodge 2.8 km S of the vent that enables visitors to hear, to see, and occasionally to smell its dynamism.

Geological Summary. Conical Volcán Arenal is the youngest stratovolcano in Costa Rica and one of its most active. The 1670-m-high andesitic volcano towers above the eastern shores of Lake Arenal, which has been enlarged by a hydroelectric project. Arenal lies along a volcanic chain that has migrated to the NW from the late-Pleistocene Los Perdidos lava domes through the Pleistocene-to-Holocene Chato volcano, which contains a 500-m-wide, lake-filled summit crater. The earliest known eruptions of Arenal took place about 7000 years ago, and it was active concurrently with Cerro Chato until the activity of Chato ended about 3500 years ago. Growth of Arenal has been characterized by periodic major explosive eruptions at several-hundred-year intervals and periods of lava effusion that armor the cone. An eruptive period that began with a major explosive eruption in 1968 ended in December 2010; continuous explosive activity accompanied by slow lava effusion and the occasional emission of pyroclastic flows characterized the eruption from vents at the summit and on the upper western flank.

Information Contacts: E. Fernandez, R. Van der Laat, F. de Obaldia, T. Marino, V. Barboza, W. Jimenez, R. Saenz, E. Duarte, M. Martinez, E. Hernandez, and F. Vega, Observatorio Vulcanologico y Sismologico de Costa Rica, Universidad Nacional (OVSICORI-UNA), Apartado 86-3000, Heredia, Costa Rica; G.J. Soto, Oficina de Sismologia y Vulcanologia del Arenal y Miravalles (OSIVAM), Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE), Apartado 10032-1000, San José, Costa Rica.