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Report on Galeras (Colombia) — July 2009


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 34, no. 7 (July 2009)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Galeras (Colombia) Explosions during February-June 2009, ashfall up to 180 km away

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2009. Report on Galeras (Colombia) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 34:7. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200907-351080



1.22°N, 77.37°W; summit elev. 4276 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Activity during 1 September to 16 December 2008 (BGVN 33:11) included modest seismicity, tremor, plumes, moderate sulfur-dioxide (SO2) emissions, and incandescence from the main crater and lava dome. This report describes activity chronicled by the Instituto Colombiano de Geologia y Mineria (INGEOMINAS) for 17 December 2008-31 July 2009.

This interval included explosive eruptions on 14 and 20 February, 13 March, 24 and 29 April, and 7 and 8 June. Some plumes rose to about 10-14 km altitude (the highest on 8 June) and carried significant ash. Seismicity on or near the volcano suggested fluid movements at depth.

On their website, INGEOMINAS provides comprehensive reports covering half-year intervals (starting in 2004). The latest available discusses the first half of 2008.

Mentioned in the latter report are more details on a large volcanic bomb from the 17 January 2008 eruption, which left a 15-m-diameter crater near the summit (BGVN 33:03). Field workers found only angular fragments of the original bomb in the impact crater (pieces often under 1 m in diameter)?but they estimated that the original bomb was on the order of 5 m in diameter. Photos of the downslope areas detected smaller impact craters thought to have been created by fragments that bounced out beyond the large crater. The same report also features isopach maps and discussion of grain size distributions for the 17 January 2008 eruption. That eruption emitted 870,000 m3 of material, which was dispersed up to 71 km W.

INGEOMINAS reported that the 14 February explosion was preceded by minor plumes (reaching 300-500 m above the crater rim) on 8 and 9 February. On 10 February, SO2 fluxes were 1,040-4,300 metric tons/day. The explosive eruption began at 1910 on 14 February. An accompanying shock wave was detected in multiple areas, including Pasto, a city about ~ 10 km E. Cloud cover prevented observations of the ash plume. From about 1930 until 2030, observers noted ashfall, rain, and an odor of sulfurous gas on the volcano's slopes as well as in Pasto. Ash fell mainly to the E and as far away as 25 km. The Alert Level was raised from III (Yellow; "changes in the behavior of volcanic activity") to I (Red; "imminent eruption or in progress"). The local hazards scale ranges from from IV (low) to I (high).

At 1950 seismicity dropped to levels similar to those recorded before the eruption. On 16 February, the Alert Level was lowered to II (Orange; "probable eruption within days or weeks"). During 16-17 February, small steam plumes rose to altitudes of 4.6-6.7 km and drifted SE, E, and NE. According to news accounts (Agence France-Presse, Caracol Radio), authorities ordered the evacuation of about 8,000 people on the slopes, but few went to shelters.

The explosion at 0705 on 20 February prompted authorities to raise the Alert Level back to I (Red). The 13-minute-long signals represented roughly double the seismic energy seen on the 14th. Shock waves were felt in several local communities. Associated sounds were heard in Popayán (~ 160 km NNE). Observers on the E flank reported two explosions, incandescent blocks ejected above the summit, ash emissions, and a sulfurous odor. Ashfall was reported to the W. Gas plumes with a low ash content continued, especially in the afternoon, reaching 700 m above the summit.

Although INGEOMINAS reported that the 20 February ash plume rose to 8 km altitude, analysis by the Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) yielded both a higher plume and variable displacements with altitude. The VAAC analysts, promptly notified by INGEOMINAS, compared plume motion seen on GOES-13 satellite imagery and winds from GFS (the Global Forecast System, a numerical weather prediction computer model run four times per day by NOAA). This enabled them to establish the plume's behavior with altitude. The resulting work indicated some of the ash rose as high as 12.5 km.

The VAAC's Ash Advisory of 20 February issued at 0835 local time was as follows: "INGEOMINAS reported an explosive eruption of Galeras at 1204 [UTC; 0704 local time]. Ash at FL410 [41,000 feet; 12.5 km altitude] was moving towards the E at 30 kts [knots, equivalent to 56 km/hour] while ash at FL220 [6.7 km altitude] was moving towards the W at 15-25 kts [28-46 km/hour]. Ash between these layers was moving N at 25 kts [46 km/hour]."

A Volcanic Ash Advisory issued on 20 February at 0854 local time noted "Ash to FL410 is quickly becoming diffuse as it races E while ash to FL280 remains identifiable moving towards the NW at 1315[UTC]." The next Advisory, at 1450 local time, noted ash had dissipated and no new eruptions were reported.

INGEOMINAS stated that the eruptions of 14 and 20 February released an estimated minimum volume of 2 x 106 m3 of tephra. This was ~ 40% of the lava dome's volume. On 20 February, the SO2 was estimated at 100-800 tons/day. A few days later the values stood below 430 tons/day.

The Alert Level was lowered on 21 February and again on 3 March (to Level III). During 22 February to 10 March, occasional white gas plumes with variable ash content rose to a peak altitude of less than 6.3 km.

On 13 March, another explosive eruption occurred. Bad weather prevented direct observations, but the Washington VAAC noted a plume rising to an altitude of ~ 12.3 km drifting NW. The eruption produced sounds heard 10 km E and W. Ashfall was reported in multiple areas E and NW; a sulfur odor was also reported in some areas. Gas plumes with some ash rose on 14 March to an altitude of 6.3 km.

According to a news account in El Tiempo, authorities again ordered the evacuation of about 8,000 people living in high-risk areas, but as before this order was generally ignored. Soon after, the Alert Level was lowered to back to II. On 24 March, the Alert Level was lowered again to III. During the week ending around 24 March, daily SO2 levels were high. Earthquake levels were low in both intensity and occurrence. During 21-23 March, white-colored gas plumes rose to an altitude of 5.4 km and drifted in multiple directions.

On 3-7 April, pulsating gas plumes, sometimes containing ash, were seen when visibility was good. The plumes rose to altitudes less than ~ 6 km. Overflights on 5, 6, and 7 April revealed emissions from different areas in the main crater. On 7 April some of the higher temperature zones were 180°C, and an incandescent area measured 500°C.

Another explosive eruption occurred on 24 April. Incandescent blocks caused fires on the N flank. An accompanying shock wave was reported by residents up to 25 km away. A second eruption, longer but weaker than the first, was detected about 30 minutes later. Incandescence from both eruptions was seen from the city of Pasto. An ash plume rose to an altitude of ~ 10.3 km and ashfall was reported in areas up to 20 km W, WNW, and NW.

On 25 April, ash-and-gas plumes rose 1 km above the crater. Thermal anomalies in the crater near the W flank measured 100°C. Ejected rocks landed 2-3 km from the crater. According to a news article in Colombia Reports, residents living near the volcano were again ordered to evacuate; about 200 people responded. The Alert Level was lowered to II. Several days later, on 29 April, another eruption occurred. Observers reported that an ash plume drifted NW and ash fell in areas up to 35 km downwind.

During 4-5 May, ash plumes drifted NE and ashfall was reported in multiple areas of Pasto. On 6 May, gas-and-ash plumes rose to an altitude of 5.8 km and drifted NE. An overflight revealed incandescence from a vent 90-100 m in diameter in the main crater that had a temperature of 500°C. White plumes originated from multiple points inside and outside of the crater. The Alert Level was lowered to III.

On 9 May, an M 2.2 volcano-tectonic earthquake occurred 6 km to the NE of the main crater at a depth of ~ 10 km. On 11 May, seismicity increased, and hybrid earthquakes and tremor were detected. The seismicity, along with incandescence in the crater and low SO2 values, led INGEOMINAS to conclude that the volcano might have become overpressurized.

During 12-19 May Galeras emitted gas plumes, occasionally containing some ash. An overflight on 17 May revealed gas emissions from multiple points inside and outside the main crater. Some thermal anomalies surpassed 180°C. During 17-18 May, two M 2.9 earthquakes occurred 6 km SSE at depths of 2-3 km, and on 18 May an M 2.3 earthquake occurred at a depth of 3-5 km, 5 km SSW.

On 7 June, an eruption occurred that was preceded by a M 4 earthquake located about 3 km SSE of the crater at a depth of 2 km. Vibrations from an accompanying acoustic wave were detected by residents. The eruption produced an ash plume that rose to an altitude of 6.8 km and drifted NW; ashfall was reported downwind.

On 8 June, two explosions about 5 minutes apart were heard up to 45 km away. The event was preceded by an M 3.9 earthquake centered 1 km E at a depth near 2 km. Ashfall was reported the NW, up to 180 km away. Based on analysis of satellite imagery, the Washington VAAC reported that the ash plume rose to an altitude of 10 km and drifted NW. A second larger eruption produced an ash plume that rose to an altitude of 13.7 km and drifted SE.

Activity declined in the next few weeks. On 9 June, INGEOMINAS reported that seismicity and sulfur dioxide output were low, and that clear conditions revealed no emissions. On 10 June, INGEOMINAS lowered the Alert Level to II. Pulsating steam plumes rose from the crater and drifted NW.

On 19 June, INGEOMINAS lowered the Alert Level to III, based on increased SO2 degassing and seismicity (related to fluid movement) that seemingly resulted in the overall lowering of pressure in the volcanic system. Around this time, scientists on a monitoring flight saw gas emissions near the crater rim and recorded a thermal anomaly within the main crater. Gas plumes with some ash rose from Galeras on 22-23 June. An overflight on 23 June revealed that temperatures in the main crater measured 60° to 120°C, except for a small 220°C zone. Gas emissions originated from the periphery of the main crater. On 26 June, seismicity similar to that seen during previous eruptions, along with low rates of gas emissions, prompted INGEOMINAS to raise the Alert Level to II.

The last thermal anomalies at Galeras recorded from satellite by the MODVOLC system was on 4 December 2008. No alerts were recorded during 17 December 2008-31 July 2009.

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: Instituto Colombiano de Geología y Minería (INGEOMINAS), Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Popayán, Popayán, Colombia; Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center, Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB), NOAA/NESDIS E/SP23, NOAA Science Center Room 401, 5200 Auth Rd, Camp Springs, MD 20746, USA (URL: http://www.ospo.noaa.gov/Products/atmosphere/vaac/); Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) Thermal Alerts System, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), Univ. of Hawai'i, 2525 Correa Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA (URL: ttp://hotspot.higp.hawaii.edu/); Agence France-Presse (URL: http://www.afp.com/afpcom/en); Caracol Radio (URL: http://www.caracol.com.co/); El Tiempo (URL: http://www.eltiempo.com/).