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Report on Colima (Mexico) — June 1994


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 19, no. 6 (June 1994)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Colima (Mexico) Three earthquake swarms culminate in a strong phreatic explosion

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1994. Report on Colima (Mexico) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 19:6. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199406-341040



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

A new episode of seismic activity developed on 4 July as a swarm of relatively deep (15-20 km depth) seismo-tectonic earthquakes lasted eight hours. Some of these events were large enough to be detected by all seismic stations of the Red Sismologica Telemetrica del Estado de Colima (RESCO) network, even those as far as 60 km away. Another swarm of shallower earthquakes occurred on 12-14 July.

A third swarm on 17 July was accompanied by small avalanches resulting from crumbling of the summit dome. Seismic activity continued to increase moderately until 21 July, when both seismic and avalanche activity suddenly increased at about 1800, culminating in a strong phreatic explosion that partially destroyed the 1991 lobe, producing a stronger avalanche and light non-juvenile ashfall on towns SW of the volcano. The explosion was detected by all RESCO stations and apparently damaged the uppermost station, located 1 km NE of the summit. It was also felt and heard in some villages more than 15 km away. Based on observations during an overflight on 25 July, it was estimated that about 3,000 m3 of material was ejected from the crater. Most of the material fell on the S flank at Barrancas El Cordobán and Zarco, far from any populated areas.

Seismicity decreased after the explosion and remained low at least through 27 July, interrupted only by minor rock avalanches. Civil Protection authorities were alerted after the explosive event, and some towns in the area of maximum risk were immediately evacuated.

A COSPEC flight on 16 July revealed a significant drop in SO2 output, from 260 ± 80 metric tons/day (t/d) on 22 January, to almost undetectable levels. On 25 July a new series of COSPEC measurements was made by CUICT-Universidad de Colima scientists from a Piper PA-32 airplane. Between 0825 and 1015 under a cloudless sky, the plume was traversed 10 times at an altitude of 3,300-3,600 m. The airplane executed a descending spiral within this altitude range. The global positioning system of the airplane computed the wind speed independently for each traverse, although wind speed was nearly constant. These measurements were used to make individual SO2-flux calculations. The SO2 flux on 25 July varied from 171 to 327 t/d, with a mean value of 256 t/d. A "puff" recorded on one traverse had a value of 458 t/d; this was not used as part of the average calculations. The preliminary interpretation is that SO2 concentration averages around 300 t/d.

Geological Summary. The Colima volcanic 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 caldera, 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 historical 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: G. Reyes and A. Ramirez-Vazquez, Centro de Investigacion en Ciencias Basicas (RESCO-CICBAS), Universidad de Colima; I. Galindo, C. Navarro, A. Cortes, A. Gonzalez, and J.C. Gavilanes, CUICT Universidad de Colima; S. De la Cruz-Reyna and Z. Jimenez, Instituto de Geofísica, UNAM; B. Marquez and C. Suarez, Departamento de Geografia, Univ de Guadalajara.