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Report on Colima (Mexico) — March 1991


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 16, no. 3 (March 1991)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Colima (Mexico) Partial collapse of summit lava dome and crater rim, with associated avalanches and explosions

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1991. Report on Colima (Mexico) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 16:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199103-341040



19.514°N, 103.62°W; summit elev. 3850 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

By mid-March, the new lobe was large enough to be visible from Colima city. Geologists visiting the summit on 27 March reported that the lava dome was 100 m across, 30-40 m high, and still growing. Some lava flowed into a small depression just NE of the nearly symmetrical dome. At the time of the visit, the dome margin was 3 m from the SW crater rim, and spawned about three avalanches/hour. Advance of the lava was shown by blocks falling from the dome front.

Other activity at the volcano had decreased significantly. Seismicity and the number of avalanches were reduced, and gas emission was low on the day of the visit. Civil authorities reduced the alert to the lowest level.

On 29-30 March, seismic stations closest to the volcano recorded sequences of a large earthquake followed at regular intervals (about 16 seconds) by smaller ones having the same wave form. The first and largest of the earthquakes was accompanied by enhanced fumarolic activity. Seismic activity declined to low levels (a few low-frequency earthquakes/day) until 12-13 April, when about 110 earthquakes were recorded daily, then returned to background levels. A new fumarolic area, SE of the dome, was observed from Colima city at about the time of the increased seismicity.

At 0400 on 16 April, avalanche activity began to increase from the 7-20 events/day recorded since the seismic crisis four days earlier. Three hours later, a RESCO team climbed the volcano to service a seismic station located atop the parasitic vent Volcancito, on the upper NE flank. During their ascent, the team heard avalanches and saw summit-area fumarolic activity, dark gray NW of the dome and white to its NE. Air reconnaissance at about 1000 did not reveal any conspicuous fissures or bulges, although strong fumarolic emissions at the SE edge of the active lobe and some local brush fires at timberline were observed.

At 1600, after some relatively large, shallow volcanic earthquakes, a portion of the dome collapsed during a protracted series of avalanches, accompanied by earthquakes and large dust clouds. Explosions were heard by the RESCO team working at Volcancito. Reddish dust and gas were emitted some time later, accompanied by explosions heard within 5 km of the volcano. Wind carried most of the dust to the SE. Incandescent blocks of lava began to move downslope at about 2200, and by the next morning it was evident that part of the dome had been carried down the SW flank, along with a segment (~20° of arc) of the crater rim. A large avalanche was recorded at 0805 on 17 April, apparently accompanied by emission of a large plume, although visibility from Colima city was poor. Records from the nearest stations had been saturated by avalanche signals until about 1900 on 16 April, and showed continuous avalanche activity into the next day. More distant stations did not detect volcanic earthquakes.

Press sources reported strong lava extrusion, accompanied by ash emission and at least 3 recorded earthquakes, at about 1932 on 17 April. Ash carried by 45 km/hour winds fell 13 km SE of the summit (at Tonila). Strong lava discharge resumed at 1945. As of 18 April, geologists reported that lava continued to emerge from a new fissure in the area of the dome and crater rim collapse, sending hot blocks downslope. Periodic explosions ejected plumes to about 1 km above the summit.

Authorities readied transportation for about 2,000 people in eight villages near the volcano, but most residents chose to remain and only two villages (Juan Barragán and San Marcos) had been evacuated as of 17 April [but this preliminary evacuation report from the press was incorrect; see 16:4-5]. Colima airport was closed because of dust produced by the activity.

Geological Summary. The Colima complex is the most prominent volcanic center of the western Mexican Volcanic Belt. It consists of two southward-younging volcanoes, Nevado de Colima (the high point of the complex) on the north and the historically active Volcán de Colima at the south. A group of late-Pleistocene cinder cones is located on the floor of the Colima graben west and east of the complex. Volcán de Colima (also known as Volcán Fuego) is a youthful stratovolcano constructed within a 5-km-wide scarp, breached to the south, that has been the source of large debris avalanches. Major slope failures have occurred repeatedly from both the Nevado and Colima cones, producing thick debris-avalanche deposits on three sides of the complex. Frequent recorded eruptions date back to the 16th century. Occasional major explosive eruptions have destroyed the summit (most recently in 1913) and left a deep, steep-sided crater that was slowly refilled and then overtopped by lava dome growth.

Information Contacts: Francisco Núñez-Cornú, F.A. Nava, Gilberto Ornelas-Arciniega, Ariel Ramírez-Vázquez, G.A. Reyes-Dávila, Hector Tamez, Guillermo Castellanos, R. Saucedo, R. García, and Jorge Piza, CICBAS, Universidad de Colima; Z. Jiménez and S. de la Cruz-Reyna, UNAM; Julián Flores, Instituto de Geografía y Estadística, Univ de Guadalajara; Michael Sheridan, State Univ of New York, USA; C. Connor, FIU, Miami; Notimex broadcast service, México City; AP.