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Report on Colima (Mexico) — August 1999


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 24, no. 8 (August 1999)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Colima (Mexico) Explosion on 17 July produces 11-km plume and pyroclastic flows

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1999. Report on Colima (Mexico) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 24:8. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199908-341040



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Another large explosion from Colima on 17 July sent a plume to over 10 km altitude. The official press bulletins (Boletín Del Comité Científico Asesor) during June and July consistently warned of the possibility of another large eruptive event. Seismicity, which had been high during 24-25 June, dropped during the subsequent 2 days, but the number of explosions remained similar. On 2 July instruments registered a slight increase in earthquakes, but the reports on 5, 9, and 16 July noted their numbers had generally dropped and remained near low or minimum values and that other monitored parameters lacked significant changes. As previously mentioned (BGVN 24:06), two degasing events took place on 5 July, one sending an ash-bearing column to 2.5 km above the summit with associated ash fall extending 10-20 km to the W; still, as late as 16 July abnormal numbers or intensities of such events were not seen. A swarm of small high-frequency earthquakes began 11-13 hours prior to the explosion. In the interval just prior to that, seismic quiet had prevailed for 11 hours.

The large 17 July explosion took place at 1241. Measurements with a hand-held clinometer 20 minutes after the explosion determined that cloud top then reached ~11 km altitude. Some near-source ash falls were incandescent, principally on the E flanks, and cooler ash fell over the W-SW sector. Pyroclastic flows had 4-4.5 km runout distances. Farther down the La Lumbre valley, the scorched, discolored leaves of plants continued for 5-5.5 km (straight-line distances from the summit to the limit of singeing, reaching ~3.5 km from the Rancho de Pedro Virgen). In the W sector, singed and scorched leaves were also seen over a 3.3 km radius from the crater. The explosion crater, which remained 70-80 m deep, grew in diameter by a few tens of meters, leaving it 220-230 m across. After the event, the crater's interior walls showed a strong inclination (flaring) on sides to the NW, N, NE, and SSW.

Regions affected by ashfall lay within about 30 km of the volcano. Ash landing 13 km from the summit reached 3-5 mm thick. At the city of Colima (~30 km distant), residents noted only traces of accumulated ash. Colima residents heard the explosive discharge loudly; they also felt low vibrations in the ground and watched window glass shake. The 17 July explosion was ranked as more powerful than the previous two large explosions (10 February and 6 May 1999) , on the basis the intensity of the sound, the size of ground vibrations, plume height, the volume of material expelled, and the amount of ash fall produced.

Evacuations followed from nearby settlements. For example, in the state of Colima one hour after the explosion many people evacuated the town of La Yerbabuena (population, ~195 people). This was the fourth time in eight months that authorities called for evacuations. Some families refused to leave, electing instead to sign waivers and remain. In the state of Jalisco evacuations were called for the settlements Juan Barragán, Los Macho, and El Agostadero. Ash fall 25 km distant affected the residents of the village of Zapotitlán de Vadillo in the state of Jalisco. Observatory bulletins around this time discussed potential hazards and hazard mitigation strategies. By 19 July other measured parameters returned to low levels and evacuees returned.

At 0830-0845 on 18 July, material dislodged on the SW flank along the track of the 1998-99 lava flows. This left a ~500-m-long, coffee-colored scar near the 3,200- to 3,300-m elevation. What some reports called block-and-ash flows and others called pyroclastic flows traveled ~2 km and entered the majority of drainages along Colima's S sector (including those of the Montegrande, San Antonio, three arms of the Cordoban, and part of the La Lumbre). Heavy rains fell and around 1300-1400 observers at the 2,200-m segment of the Montegrande river witnessed and photographed the pyroclastic deposit as it remobilized to generate a hot lahar. Later inspection revealed that lahars had traveled about 4 km down the Montegrande, San Antonio, and Cordoban rivers.

For the week ending on 23 July 1999, Colima remained at low seismic levels except for an explosive eruption at 0745 on 21 July. On 23 July some six degassing events were registered. In discussing the previous 24 hours, the 30 July bulletin noted high seismicity and minor ash fall. The threat of lahars led authorities to caution citizens to avoid vulnerable towns in affected drainages. These drainages included La Lumbre, El Cordobán, San Antonio, and Monte Grande in Colima; and the drainages El Muerto, La Tuna, Santa Ana, El Cafecito, La Arena, and Beltrán-Durazno in Jalisco. A later bulletin warned citizens to take steps before the occurrence of lahars, specifically aiming these recommendations to residents of La Yerbabuena, La Becerrera, and Rancho El Jabalí.

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: Colima Volcano Observatory, University of Colima, Ave. 25 de Julio 965, Colima 28045 México (URL: https://portal.ucol.mx/cueiv/).