Logo link to homepage

Report on Nevado del Ruiz (Colombia) — January 1986

Nevado del Ruiz

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 11, no. 1 (January 1986)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Nevado del Ruiz (Colombia) Seismicity; deformation; minor ash emission

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1986. Report on Nevado del Ruiz (Colombia) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 11:1. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198601-351020

Nevado del Ruiz


4.892°N, 75.324°W; summit elev. 5279 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Seismicity and deformation continued through early February, but there had been no eruptive episodes since the minor explosive activity on 4 January. Plume heights varied from 100 to ~1,000 m above the summit (often in a single day), partly dependent on the amount of rainwater accumulated in the crater. Weak ash emission occurred on some days, falling near the crater.

After the 4 January ash emission, about four mixed-frequency seismic events were recorded/day, declining to <1/day since 1 February. Between mid-January and mid-February, there were normally about 10 high-frequency events/day, with two small crises on 8 and 14 February of about 20 events each (M < 1). The low-frequency seismicity also registered about 10 events daily without significant variations. Depths were between 2 and 6 km below a datum at 3.8 km above sea level, with epicenters typically <2 km from the crater, closer than in December. In early February, events were concentrated in the NE part of the volcano [see also 11:02].

An electronic tilt station W of the crater measured inflation values of the order of 0.5 µrad/day until the end of January, then dropped to 0.2-0.3/day, while deformation on other flanks remained at lower rates (<0.1 µrad). A deformation event that started 18 January was measured by continuously recording tiltmeters 2 and 5 km NW of the summit and by EDM stations radiating W from the summit. About 20-25 mm/km of inflation accumulated before the episode ended 4-5 days later. Another small inflation episode was in progress on 13 February, totaling ~8 mm/km at a reflector ~4 km NE of the summit.

By February, rates of fissure displacements in the summit glaciers had slowed by as much as an order of magnitude, to millimeters or occasionally centimeters/day. Increased melting was observed but attributed to sunnier weather. Melting of ice caused buckling of overlying tephra layers that were as much as 6 m thick near the summit, producing features reminiscent of tumuli that form on top of block lava flows.

An improved alert system and additional hazard study has permitted some of the persons that had remained evacuated since 4 January to return to their homes.

Geological Summary. Nevado del Ruiz is a broad, glacier-covered volcano in central Colombia that covers more than 200 km2. Three major edifices, composed of andesitic and dacitic lavas and andesitic pyroclastics, have been constructed since the beginning of the Pleistocene. The modern cone consists of a broad cluster of lava domes built within the caldera of an older edifice. The 1-km-wide, 240-m-deep Arenas crater occupies the summit. The prominent La Olleta pyroclastic cone located on the SW flank may also have been active in historical time. Steep headwalls of massive landslides cut the flanks. Melting of its summit icecap during historical eruptions, which date back to the 16th century, has resulted in devastating lahars, including one in 1985 that was South America's deadliest eruption.

Information Contacts: I. Mejía and E. Parra, Comité de Estudios Vulcanológicos, Manizales; A. Okamura, HVO.