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Report on Sabancaya (Peru) — May 1991


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 16, no. 5 (May 1991)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Sabancaya (Peru) Vigorous Vulcanian activity; mudflows force daily clearing of river channel

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1991. Report on Sabancaya (Peru) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 16:5. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199105-354006



15.787°S, 71.857°W; summit elev. 5960 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Strong Vulcanian explosions were observed during a visit on 13-19 April. The explosions, occurring every 20-30 minutes, lasted ~ 1 minute and produced 3-4-km-high, medium-gray ash clouds. Small avalanches were produced by falling blocks at the base of the eruptive columns. Quiet degassing continued between explosions. Light-gray ashfall was frequent during the visit, depositing 2 mm one night ~9.5 km SE of the summit (at Cajamarcana).

The volcano began erupting in late May 1990, reportedly ejecting ash to 7 km. By late June 1990 (15:7), activity had decreased to periodic explosions with weak ash columns 2-3 km high, but then increased slowly through November. High-frequency seismicity (>122 events recorded over one 2-week period) was usually centered ~ 10 km NE, although two earthquakes occurred under the crater. Several tremor episodes were recorded, starting in October.

The plume was black and heavy with ash during an overflight on 10 November, rising an estimated 5-8 km in distinct, but almost continuous pulses. Ash deposited on Hualca Hualca (4 km N) caused increased melting of the glaciers (estimated 20 cm of snow above the ice and berm) producing numerous mudflows. These moved down the N flank nightly, dumping an estimated 13,000 m3 of debris/day into the Majes River drainage system ~ 5 km N of the volcano. Construction crews cleared the channel daily. Airfall deposits were composed of 80% lithics and 20% glassy fragments and breadcrusted material. At one outcrop, the 1990 ash accumulations were 1 cm thick, overlying at progressively greater depth 30 cm soil, 2 cm ash, 40 cm soil, and another 2 cm ash. Eruptive activity observed on 22 December appeared about the same as it was on 10 November.

Geological Summary. Sabancaya, located in the saddle NE of Ampato and SE of Hualca Hualca volcanoes, is the youngest of these volcanic centers and the only one to have erupted in historical time. The oldest of the three, Nevado Hualca Hualca, is of probable late-Pliocene to early Pleistocene age. The name Sabancaya (meaning "tongue of fire" in the Quechua language) first appeared in records in 1595 CE, suggesting activity prior to that date. Holocene activity has consisted of Plinian eruptions followed by emission of voluminous andesitic and dacitic lava flows, which form an extensive apron around the volcano on all sides but the south. Records of observed eruptions date back to 1750 CE.

Information Contacts: P. Vetsch and R. Haubrichs, SVG, Switzerland; N. Banks, CVO; Instituto Geofísico del Perú, Lima.