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Report on Colima (Mexico) — September 1998


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 23, no. 9 (September 1998)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Colima (Mexico) Explosion on 6 July follows seven months of seismic unrest

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1998. Report on Colima (Mexico) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 23:9. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199809-341040



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

After seven months of seismic unrest (small swarms, with durations lasting some few hours to as much as 90 hours), at 1858 on 6 July an explosion at the summit dome was similar in behavior and about half of the magnitude of an explosion in 1994.

A microbarograph 8 km SW of the summit at La Yerbabuena failed to register the explosion's shock wave, and the events were not noticed by residents of that settlement or La Becerrera (12 km SW of the summit), nor were these effects noticed by rangers at Rancho El Jabali (12 km SSW of the summit). Residents did report light rain and a bit of thunder and lightning at 1900, which may have helped conceal, or have been confused with, the sound of the explosion.

Seen through a microscope, plant leaves contained ash residue left after rainfall: mineral particles and hydrothermally altered rock fragments under 0.5 mm in diameter, often of light cream color, and similar to those collected at Yerbabuena after the 1994 explosion.

Melchor Ursua of the Civil Defense reported that at 1900 residents of Tonila (13.5 km SE of the summit) observed a small black mushroom cloud rise above the summit accompanied by the sound of thunder or explosion. At 2300 that day from La Yerbabuena, observers Navarro, Breton, and Santaana saw fumarolic gases blown around the W face of the volcano, but in the faint moonlight he failed to discern any glow or ash from the crater.

The last seismic crisis started around 2200 on 2 July 1998 and ended at 1858 on 6 July: a vigorous swarm of earthquakes, which according to Gabriel Reyes comprised ~1,000 events a day for the last 3 days. One event with coda magnitude (Mc) 3.5-4.0 gained registry at all network stations including those near the coast at Tecoman and Armeria; it was interpreted as related to the above-discussed explosion. The seismic quiet afterwards consisted of zero events in a pattern reminiscent of 1994 when quiet prevailed for about 12 hours.

Noteworthy swarms during 1997 occurred on 20 March, 16, 21, and 30 June, 28 November, and 5 December. Compared to the 1997 swarms, this one (2-6 July 1998) was the largest and most energetic.

During the latest swarm the volcano was only visible from 0800 to 1000. After 160 mm of rain had fallen at La Yerbabuena, a lahar swept downslope between 1400 and 1800 on 2 July, blocking passage across the Becerrera River valley 12.5 km SW of the summit.

During 1900-2000 on 7 July, the seismic station closest to the W flank (SOMA, 1.7 km NW from the summit) registered strong, continuous mass wasting and later, during 2200-2300, a relatively strong volcanic event. Seismic quiet returned later, but vigorous fumarolic emissions were blown W. An update on 28 October noted that for a few weeks after the explosion the volcano displayed unrest, including about 23 seismic swarms, each enduring for 2 to 6-8 hours. All the seismic information was provided by the Colima seismic network (RESCO). The last swarm occurred on 25 October and prevailed for 13 hours.

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: Carlos Navarro Ochoa, Colima Volcano Observatory, Universidad de Colima, Ave. 25 de Julio 965, Colima 28045, Colima, México.