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Report on Arenal (Costa Rica) — October 2005


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

Arenal (Costa Rica) Frequent pyroclastic flows from crater C since August 2004

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2005. Report on Arenal (Costa Rica) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 30:10. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200510-345033


Costa Rica

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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

As described in the previous Arenal report (BGVN 29:08), on 6 July 2004 a series of pyroclastic flows descended the NE flank. These flows resulted from the collapse of the upper portions of a lava flow, and affected areas beyond those affected by pyroclastic flows during 1999-2003. Similar events have been common in recent years on the volcano's N and NE sides, as Crater C continued to emit gases, lava flows, and sporadic strombolian eruptions through 2004 and at least as late as November 2005. Throughout the period of this report (August 2004-September 2005) the lava flow that began to be emitted towards the NE flank in June 2004 remained active. Occasional blocks spalled off the N edge of the crater towards the NE. The NE and SE flanks continued to be affected by pyroclastic flows and acid rain. Crater D displayed fumarole activity from July 2004 through September 2005. The seismograph station VACR (2.9 km NE of the active Crater C) was out of service from 24 June 2004 until 20 August 2004. Table 24 summarizes the seismicity registered at VACR from August 2004 to September 2005.

Table 24. Seismic activity registered at Arenal's station VACR, August 2004 - September 2005. From 24 June to 20 August 2004 VACR was not operating. No data were reported for December 2004. Courtesy of OVSICORI-UNA.

Month Eruption earthquakes Daily average LP Events Tremor (hours) Comments
Aug 2004 414 35 -- 147 VACR not operating 24 Jun-20 Aug.
Sep 2004 1125 37 -- 330 --
Oct 2004 1155 37 32 293 --
Nov 2004 584 34 -- 153 --
Dec 2004 -- -- -- -- --
Jan 2005 540 22 5 357 VACR operated for 25 days.
Feb 2005 941 35 12 448 --
Mar 2005 903 29 15 458 --
Apr 2005 567 19 13 592 --
May 2005 618 20 3 600 --
Jun 2005 697 23 10 606 --
Jul 2005 827 27 23 560 --
Aug 2005 597 20 33 548 --
Sep 2005 548 18 16 576 --

During July 2004-January 2005, pyroclastic flows were produced by the collapse of the active lava flow front. In August 2004 some eruptions generated ash columns higher than 500 m above Crater C.

Through most of February 2005 Arenal was hidden by storm clouds, but late in the month it could be observed that the lava flow formerly active on the NE flank had stopped, and no other active flow was seen. The number of eruptions and the amount of ejected pyroclastic material were both reduced in February, and few eruptions produced plumes as high as 500 m. The dome in Crater C continued to grow.

At the beginning of March a SW-trending lava flow was observed, and blocks were ejected to the W. During April 2005 this flow continued, and ejected blocks caused small fires in the surrounding vegetation. A new lava flow began on the SE flank, and blocks ejected to the S and SE again caused fires. In May and June 2005 the SW flow continued. In July the SW lava flow deposited blocks towards the SW, the W and the NW. The SE lava flow released small avalanches off its front and sides. Occasional eruptions produced ash columns higher than 500 m above Crater C.

In August 2005 the SE lava flow stopped. Few eruptions produced ash columns higher than 500 m above Crater C. During September 2005 the SW lava flow was active and deposited blocks to the SW, the W and the NW. The NE and SE flanks continued to be affected by the fall of pyroclastic material and acid rain.

Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica -Universidad Nacional (OVSICORI-UNA) reported that around 1500 on 2 November a pyroclastic flow was observed on the SE flank of Arenal. On 3 November researchers from OVSICORI-UNA visited the affected area and, contrary to what witnesses had reported, determined that the 2 November event took place on the W flank of the volcano. The mid-size pyroclastic flow produced gas, dust, and ash that were carried by strong winds towards the SE.

Despite the rainy and hazy conditions during the fieldwork it was possible to confirm the affected area and deposits. The movement of lava flows on the SW flank had been observed for the last several months. Materials descending from the summit bifurcate, covering a wide fan that ranges from the W to the SW flank. The main pyroclastic flow affected an area from the summit down to ~ 1000 m altitude. A smooth alley was carved in the steep walls of upper W flank by the transport of incandescent material. Most of the material was deposited in a distal zone 75 m wide, at the break in the steep upper cone slope.

Samples were taken from hot loose blocks spalled from the lava flow; one block was still at 154°C, and was accompanied by several other massive blocks that were fractured by rapid cooling and rough transport. There is evidence that the fine fall material was only deposited in the upper and middle part of the edifice towards the SE.

Given the sustained deposition of material in the area, visitors were advised to follow instructions and safety measures and adhere to the advice of the Park Rangers and tour guides.

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: Eliecer Duarte, Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica, Universidad Nacional (OVSICORI-UNA), Apartado 86-3000, Heredia, Costa Rica. (URL: http://www.ovsicori.una.ac.cr/).