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Report on Pacaya (Guatemala) — October 2005


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 30, no. 10 (October 2005)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Pacaya (Guatemala) Steam clouds and tremor in 2004; incandescence and lava flows in 2005

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2005. Report on Pacaya (Guatemala) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 30:10. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200510-342110



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Frequent steam plumes through 2002 and 2003 indicated that Pacaya was active, although incandescence from the long-term lava lake ended after June 2001. During the latter half of October 2003 constant steam and abundant emissions of water and gas were being blown to the NNW and W of the volcano (BGVN 28:10). All of the following information is derived from the reports of Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanologia, Meteorologia e Hydrologia (INSIVUMEH).

Throughout November and December 2003 and the first half of 2004, abundant clouds and columns of white and off-white gases and steam were expelled from Pacaya, generally reaching less than 400 m above the volcano and dispersing mostly to the W and SW; these were occasionally visible from Guatemala City, 30 km to the NNE.

During June, July, and August 2004, near-continuous tremor and frequent long-period earthquakes were recorded at seismograph station PCG (~ 1.4 km to the W of Pacaya). On 14 June, weak incandescence was observed in the central crater of MacKenney Cone for the first time since August 2000. Pacaya continued to expel off-white smoke and/or steam which usually drifted to the S and SW and rose to 150-300 m above the volcano. On 19 July, ejection of small lava fragments began to form a cone in the bottom of the central crater of MacKenney Cone.

During September-November 2004, tremor increased somewhat (from ~ 2mm in June, July, and September to 4-7 mm in December), and white steam and/or gas plumes rose 300-500 m above MacKenney Cone. Incandescence was observed throughout this time and lava clasts were expelled from the MacKenney Cone on 7-9 December.

On 3 January 2005, small expulsions of incandescent lava clasts rose from the central crater, and a narrow lava flow from the S rim of the crater reached 75-100 m down the flank. Station PCG continued to register tremor, and incandescence and white plumes persisted. On 10 January, lava flowed ~ 30 m from the SW rim of the central crater of MacKenney Cone. On 12 January, two lava flows, one to the S ( ~ 125 m) and one to the SW (~ 50 m) left the central crater. Observers saw incandescent lava fragments rising <10 m above the mouth of the intra-crater cone, and "smoke" whiffs rising from the MacKenney Cone. During the last 5 days of January 2005, numerous small lava flows descended the S and SW flanks of the volcano.

During February, March, and April 2005, incandescence, tremor, and minor lava flows continued. On 2 February observers reported that avalanches from the lava flow fronts during the previous days formed a debris fan covering about 2/3 of the SW flank. On 28 February expulsion of incandescent lava fragments reached heights of 10-50 m for brief periods. On 1 March INSIVUMEH recommended that park officials prevent tourists from climbing Pacaya because of avalanches, lava expulsion, and gas emissions. In March and April explosions of lava reached 100 m in height, and smoke/gas emissions continued.

Lava emission continued during May. On 4 May, three flows were active, extending up to 100 m down the SW flank and 150 m W in the direction of Cerro Chino. On 9 May two active flows from the base of the intracrater cone reached 200 m down the W flank. Plumes from the MacKenney Cone rose as high as 800 m above the crater. Ejection of incandescent material continued throughout the month. Lava flows moving to the SW and W in the direction of Cerro Chino reached lengths of 150-250 m.

During early June, incandescent lava clasts were ejected as high as ~ 75 m above Pacaya's crater. An intra-crater lava flow extended ~ 300 m from the SW base of the central cone. On 6 June, a lava flow traveled ~ 200 m down the volcano's W flank. By 27 June a lava flow extended ~ 300 m down the SW flank. A white steam column rose ~ 150 m over the central crater and drifted SW. Incandescent lava expulsions reached heights of 15-50 m. On the night of 27 June two rivers of lava, 75 and 150 m long, were observed in front of Cerro Chino. Constant expulsions of pyroclastic material rose 20-30 m above the crater.

Lava flows in July traveled 200-300 m down the SW flank. Small plumes emitted from the volcano's central crater rose to low altitudes. Avalanches of incandescent volcanic blocks produced small ash clouds to low levels.

During 7-11 September, occasional Strombolian activity occurred. Volcanic bombs from two craters rose up to 30 m above their rims. Incandescence from lava flows on the SE flank was visible on several nights.

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: Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanologia, Meteorologia e Hydrologia (INSIVUMEH), 7a Av. 14-57, Zona 13, Guatemala City, Guatemala (URL: http://www.insivumeh.gob.gt/); Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC), Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB), NOAA/NESDIS E/SP23, NOAA Science Center Room 401, 5200 Auth Road, Camp Springs, MD 20746, USA (URL: http://www.ospo.noaa.gov/Products/atmosphere/vaac/).