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Report on Pacaya (Guatemala) — March 2019


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 44, no. 3 (March 2019)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke. Edited by A. Elizabeth Crafford.

Pacaya (Guatemala) Continuous activity from the cone in Mackenney crater; daily lava flows on the NW flank during October 2018-January 2019

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2019. Report on Pacaya (Guatemala) (Crafford, A.E., and Venzke, E., eds.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 44:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN201903-342110



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Extensive lava flows, bomb-laden Strombolian explosions, and ash plumes emerging from MacKenney crater have characterized the persistent activity at Pacaya since 1961. The latest eruptive episode began with intermittent ash plumes and incandescence in June 2015; the growth of a new pyroclastic cone inside the summit crater was confirmed in mid-December 2015. The pyroclastic cone has continued to grow, rising above the crater rim in late 2017 and sending numerous flows down the flanks of the crater throughout 2018 (BGVN 43:11). Similar activity continued during October 2018-January 2019, covered in this report, with information provided primarily by Guatemala's Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanologia, Meteorologia e Hydrologia (INSIVUMEH).

There were few variations in the eruptive activity at Pacaya during October 2018-January 2019. Virtually constant Strombolian activity from the summit of the pyroclastic cone within Mackenney crater produced ejecta that rose 5-30 m daily. Periods of increased activity occasionally increased the height of the ejecta to 50 m. Lava flows descended the NW flank of Mackenney cone towards Cerro Chino crater, usually one or two a day, sometimes three or four. They travelled 50-300 m down the flank; the longest reached 600 m in mid-October and 500 m at the end of January. Steam and gas plumes persisted from the summit; a single VAAC report mentioned dilute ash in mid-October. Plumes generally rose a few hundred meters above the summit, occasionally reaching 700-800 m. Incandescent avalanche blocks at the heads of the flows were sometimes as large as a meter in diameter and traveled far down the flanks.

Constant Strombolian activity during October 2018 from the pyroclastic cone within Mackenney crater was ejected up to 30 m above the summit of the cone throughout the month, with occasional more intense episodes rising 50 m. Lava flows were reported daily by INSIVUMEH on the NW flank from 50 to 300 m long. White and blue gas-and-steam emissions generally rose a few hundred meters from the summit of the pyroclastic cone and usually drifted S or N. The highest rose 800 m on 26 and 27 October. In a special report issued late on 12 October INSIVUMEH noted that seismicity had increased during the day; Strombolian explosions also increased and ejected material 25-50 m above the summit, producing block avalanches in the vicinity of the flows (figure 103). The cone within Mackenney crater continued to grow, reaching 75 m above the rim and nearly filling the crater at its base. According to the Washington VAAC, on 14 October a pilot reported minor ash emissions moving W at an estimated 650 m above the summit. Multi-spectral imagery showed a faint ash plume moving W at 3.4 km altitude, and a well-defined hotspot was seen in short-wave infrared imagery.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 103. Strombolian activity sent ejecta 25-50 m above the summit of Pacaya on 12 October 2018, and lava flows traveled 600 m down the NW flank towards Cerro Chino, as seen from the community of Escuintla located about 20 km W. Courtesy of Carlos Barrios and INSIVUMEH.

Similar activity persisted throughout November 2018 (figures 104 and 105). The Strombolian activity usually rose 5-30 m high; on 24 November INSIVUMEH reported ejecta 75 m high and the presence of four lava flows on the NW flank that traveled distances ranging from 50 to 200 m. Steam-and-gas emissions rose no more than 500 m above the summit. On 24 and 28 November incandescent avalanche blocks were observed at the fronts of the lava flows.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 104. Constant Strombolian activity rising 25-50 m above the summit of Pacaya was reported on 12 November 2018. In addition, a lava flow 150 m long traveled down the NW flank towards Cerro Chino, as seen in this image with incandescent blocks below the flow. A diffuse plume of mostly gas and steam rose 350 m above the crater. Courtesy of CONRED.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 105. Continuous lava flows up to 300 m long were observed during the last week of November 2018 at Pacaya. They traveled down the NW flank and often had large incandescent blocks that descended the flank beneath the flow. Courtesy of INSIVUMEH (Reporte Semanal de Monitoreo: Volcán Pacaya (1402-11), Semana del 24 al 30 de noviembre de 2018).

During December 2018, continuous Strombolian activity was observed 25 m high. Incandescent avalanche blocks were noted at the fronts of the lava flows more frequently than in previous months. One to three lava flows extending 50-300 m down the NW flank towards Cerro Chino were reported every day that the flanks were visible (figure 106). Late on 13 December INSIVUMEH released a special bulletin noting that explosions were heard as far as 8 km from Mackenney crater, and Strombolian activity rose 25-50 m. Constant tremor activity had been produced from the ongoing lava flows descending the flank; the incandescent avalanche blocks up to 1 m in diameter were falling from the front of the flows. By the end of December, the growing pyroclastic cone had filled the inside of Mackenney crater, reaching 75-100 m above the crater rim. In a special information report on 28 December, INSIVUMEH noted that changes in the eruptive patterns included an increase in seismic tremor along with more persistent and higher energy Strombolian activity from the active cone, which frequently sent material outside of the crater onto the flanks.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 106. Lava flows traveled down the NW flank of Pacaya on 7 December 2018. Courtesy of INSIVUMEH (Informe mensual de la actividad volcanica, diciembre 2018, Volcan de Pacaya).

There were no significant changes in activity during January 2019. Constant Strombolian activity rose 5-30 m above the summit; INSIVUMEH reported the height at 50 m on 7 January. Large incandescent avalanche blocks were noted at the front of the lava flows several times; one or two flows daily reached lengths of 100-300 m. The flow reported on 29 January reached 500 m, traveling down the NW flank towards Cerro Chino. Steam plumes, sometimes with bluish gas, rose generally to around 100 m above the summit, occasionally higher. Growth and destruction of the pyroclastic cone inside Mackenney crater continued as it had for the previous several months. The persistent Strombolian and lava flow activity was responsible for a strong thermal signature recorded in satellite data and plotted by the MIROVA project during the period (figure 107).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 107. A MIROVA graph of thermal radiative power at Pacaya from 5 April 2018 through January 2019 showed little change during the period from October 2018-January 2019 covered in this report. Courtesy of MIROVA.

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), Unit of Volcanology, Geologic Department of Investigation and Services, 7a Av. 14-57, Zona 13, Guatemala City, Guatemala (URL: http://www.insivumeh.gob.gt/); Coordinadora Nacional para la Reducción de Desastres (CONRED), Av. Hincapié 21-72, Zona 13, Guatemala City, Guatemala (URL: http://conred.gob.gt/www/index.php); MIROVA (Middle InfraRed Observation of Volcanic Activity), a collaborative project between the Universities of Turin and Florence (Italy) supported by the Centre for Volcanic Risk of the Italian Civil Protection Department (URL: http://www.mirovaweb.it/); Carlos Barrios (Twitter: @shekano, URL: https://twitter.com/shekano).