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Report on Masaya (Nicaragua) — April 1999


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 24, no. 4 (April 1999)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Masaya (Nicaragua) Continued degassing and marked gravity decreases; previously unreported small explosions

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1999. Report on Masaya (Nicaragua) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 24:4. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199904-344100



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The present activity began in mid-1993 with the brief formation of a lava pond and gradual increase in degassing (BGVN 18:04 and 18:07). Small explosions in Santiago Crater on 17 November 1997 and 14 September 1998 ejected lava bombs up to 50 cm in diameter onto the western rim. Canadian, British and Nicaraguan scientists returned between February and March 1999 to continue the study of the degassing crisis (BGVN 23:09).

A gas plume was continuously emitted from a vent with a diameter of 15-20 m at the bottom of Santiago Crater. A characteristic sound, like the breaking of waves, was created by gas emission. Incandescence of the vent walls was visible only at night. Temperatures recorded at the vent with an infrared thermometer, 200-380°C, were highly dependent upon the opacity of the gas plume.

COSPEC measurements of SO2 revealed continued high flux, varying from 1,300 to 4,060 metric tons/day. Remote sensing of the gas plume composition using an open-path Fourier transform infrared spectrometer (OP-FTIR) in a variety of modes reveals a SO2/HCl volume ratio of about 2, comparable to that obtained in February-April 1998.

The OP-FTIR was also run simultaneously with direct plume sampling using a filter pack-collection technique at the summit and on the Llano Pacaya ridge, 15 km from Santiago Crater. Acid gases (CO2, SO2, H2S, HCl and HF) were passively collected from the crater rim using concentrated KOH solutions exposed to the atmosphere. These experiments should allow for a comparison between remote and direct sampling techniques and provide information on variations in plume composition as it disperses.

Fumigation of the land downwind from Santiago Crater continues to affect the local communities. SO2 plume dispersion and deposition was monitored with a large network of diffusion tubes and sulfation plates. Preliminary results indicate that dispersion of the plume is strongly influenced by local topography. Near-ground SO2 concentrations above 100 ppb were measured on the Llano Pacaya ridge in February-April 1999. These high values may indicate a serious local health hazard. Acid rain collected at the summit and about 7 km downwind on 15 March 1999 had pH values between 3.5 and 4.

Microgravity surveys between March 1997 and February 1999 appear to show a consistent decrease in gravity (up to 90 microgals) immediately beneath the Santiago pit crater. This decrease is of the same order as that measured between 1993 and 1994 at the start of the degassing crisis.

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: Pierre Delmelle and John Stix, Département de Géologie, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Québec H3C 3J7, Canada; Glyn Williams-Jones, Dave Rothery, Hazel Rymer, Lisa Horrocks and Mike Burton, Department of Earth Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, United Kingdom; Peter Baxter, Department of Community Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CH1 2H8, United Kingdom; José Garcia Alavarez, Martha Navarro, and Wilfried Strauch, INETER, Apartado Postal 2110, Managua, Nicaragua.