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Report on Masaya (Nicaragua) — September 1998


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

Masaya (Nicaragua) Integrated scientific studies of the caldera area

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1998. Report on Masaya (Nicaragua) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 23:9. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199809-344100



11.985°N, 86.165°W; summit elev. 594 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Four teams of Canadian, British, and Nicaraguan volcanologists carried out studies of Masaya caldera during January-April and September 1998. The volcano was examined using correlation spectroscopy (COSPEC), microgravity, Open Path Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy (OP-FTIR), and soil-gas studies.

Vent degassing appeared to have increased significantly. COSPEC measurements during February-April 1998 showed SO2 flux varying from 680 t/d to a maximum of 5,580 t/d. Measurements made during the previous year (January-March 1997) showed more stable fluxes of approximately 380 t/d. Measurements in September 1998 showed flux levels varying from 320 to 1,420 t/d.

OP-FTIR measured from the Plaza Oviedo overlooking the "Santiago" pit crater showed consistent SO2/HCl and HCl/HF volume ratios of 2 and 7, respectively. Using the COSPEC-derived SO2 flux, scientists inferred HCl fluxes of 340 to 2,790 t/d and HF fluxes of 97 to 797 t/d.

CO2 soil-gas measurements at the foot of the Comalito cinder cone increased from 23 to 31.3% between March 1997 and February 1998. Fumarole temperatures also increased from 70 to 84°C during February 1998.

Microgravity surveys during March 1997-February 1998 showed a slight increase in gravity immediately beneath the Santiago pit crater. They also showed evidence (increased noise recorded on the meter) of significant seismic activity around the Santiago crater. Similar measurements acquired in September 1998 indicated increased seismic activity throughout the caldera.

Temperatures at the active vent, measured using a Cyclops infrared camera, ranged between 170 and 400°C. The higher measurements occurred when incandescence of the vent walls was visible. In March, a small fumarole emitting low levels of gas appeared, ~15 m from the active vent.

Geological Summary. Masaya is one of Nicaragua's most unusual and most active volcanoes. It lies within the massive Pleistocene Las Sierras caldera and is itself a broad, 6 x 11 km basaltic caldera with steep-sided walls up to 300 m high. The caldera is filled on its NW end by more than a dozen vents that erupted along a circular, 4-km-diameter fracture system. The NindirĂ­ and Masaya cones, the source of historical eruptions, were constructed at the southern end of the fracture system and contain multiple summit craters, including the currently active Santiago crater. A major basaltic Plinian tephra erupted from Masaya about 6,500 years ago. Historical lava flows cover much of the caldera floor and there is a lake at the far eastern end. A lava flow from the 1670 eruption overtopped the north caldera rim. Masaya has been frequently active since the time of the Spanish Conquistadors, when an active lava lake prompted attempts to extract the volcano's molten "gold." Periods of long-term vigorous gas emission at roughly quarter-century intervals have caused health hazards and crop damage.

Information Contacts: Glyn Williams-Jones, Dave Rothery, Hazel Rymer, Peter Francis, and Lisa Boardman, Department of Earth Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, United Kingdom; Alexandre Beaulieu, Dany Harvey, Pierre Delmelle, Katie St-Amand, and John Stix, Département de Géologie, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Québec H3C 3J7, Canada; Mike Burton, Clive Oppenheimer, and Matthew Watson, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Downing Place, Cambridge, CB2 3EN, United Kingdom (URL: http://www.geog.cam.ac.uk/); Hélène Gaonac'h, Département des sciences de la Terre, Université du Québec - Montréal, Montréal, Québec H3C 3P8, Canada; Martha Navarro and Wilfried Strauch, INETER, Apartado Postal 2110, Managua, Nicaragua; Benjamin van Wyk de Vries, Departement des Sciences de la Terre, Universite Blaise Pascal, 63038 Clermont-Ferrand, France.