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Report on Santa Maria (Guatemala) — December 1991

Santa Maria

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 16, no. 12 (December 1991)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Santa Maria (Guatemala) Strong gas emission, frequent explosions, and block avalanches from lava dome

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1991. Report on Santa Maria (Guatemala) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 16:12. Smithsonian Institution.

Santa Maria


14.757°N, 91.552°W; summit elev. 3745 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

During 3 hours of observation following a pre-dawn ascent of Santa María on 4 January, the dome was continuously active, dominantly on its ESE side at Caliente vent. Copious steam emission was continuous from many fumaroles on the E half of the dome, with concentrated emission accompanied by subdued, pulsating roaring from a 25-m-diameter crater at Caliente's summit.

Episodic violent phreatic explosions occurred at intervals of 7-25 minutes, ejecting billowing, cauliflower-shaped steam clouds to heights ranging from 800 to 2500 m above the dome. There was no relationship between repose intervals and the size of subsequent explosions. Each explosion was heralded by a loud roar, lasting 2-4 minutes, from steam jets on the floor or rim of Caliente. Small blocks were commonly ejected onto the E flank of the dome during the early phases of each explosion. Minor ash from dissipating clouds generally drifted SE, lightly dusting vegetation.

Sporadic spalling of large blocks (estimated <=2 m in size) from the dome's E and S flanks indicated that the Caliente lobe was growing by intrusion. One small avalanche of rubble produced an apparent small pyroclastic surge that reached the S foot of the dome. Seared vegetation to several hundred meters SE of the dome suggested that larger pyroclastic surges had recently occurred.

Geological Summary. Symmetrical, forest-covered Santa MarĂ­a volcano is part of a chain of large stratovolcanoes that rise above the Pacific coastal plain of Guatemala. The sharp-topped, conical profile is cut on the SW flank by a 1.5-km-wide crater. The oval-shaped crater extends from just below the summit to the lower flank, and was formed during a catastrophic eruption in 1902. The renowned Plinian eruption of 1902 that devastated much of SW Guatemala followed a long repose period after construction of the large basaltic-andesite stratovolcano. The massive dacitic Santiaguito lava-dome complex has been growing at the base of the 1902 crater since 1922. Compound dome growth at Santiaguito has occurred episodically from four vents, with activity progressing W towards the most recent, Caliente. Dome growth has been accompanied by almost continuous minor explosions, with periodic lava extrusion, larger explosions, pyroclastic flows, and lahars.

Information Contacts: J.P. Lockwood, USGS; Sección de Vulcanología, INSIVUMEH.