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Report on San Cristobal (Nicaragua) — November 2001

San Cristobal

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 26, no. 11 (November 2001)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

San Cristobal (Nicaragua) Minor ash eruptions during May-November 2001; elevated seismicity

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2001. Report on San Cristobal (Nicaragua) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 26:11. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200111-344020

San Cristobal


12.702°N, 87.004°W; summit elev. 1745 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Ash fell at San Cristóbal during May and June 2000. Relative calm prevailed after then until May 2001, when activity began to increase. Thousands of earthquakes per month occurred during June through at least October 2001. Explosive eruptions in mid-August produced columns that reached 400 m.

Seismic signals registered on 2, 4, and 7 May 2001 indicated that small explosions had probably occurred. At 0900 on 11 May, seismic tremor increased to a level exceeding that observed during the eruption in December 1999 and the early months of 2000 (BGVN 25:02). The volcano emitted ash and gas beginning on 12 May. A total of 2,748 seismic events were registered during the month. No dominant frequency was observed during the beginning of the month, but during the rest of the month dominant frequencies of up to 6.7 Hz were noted. Pulses of gas-and-ash emissions were seen rising up to 100 m above the crater rim, and light ash fell in the town of Santa Barbara, 14 km SW of the volcano. The volcano was relatively calm at the end of May.

During June there were three periods of increased seismicity, rapid degassing, and release of gas and ash. The total of 2,276 earthquakes during the month were mostly associated with degassing. On 7 June at 0240, seismic tremor increased, and minutes later dark clouds were observed. At 0500, gray ashfall was reported 10 km SW of the volcano. Activity decreased beginning 9 June until 16 June, when high-energy seismic activity and ash emissions increased for about five hours. The dominant frequency of the 16 June earthquakes ranged between 10 and 12 Hz. On 20 June at 1048 tremor increased again and ashfall began one hour later. A vibration was felt, and noise was heard as far as 6 km from the volcano. The activity ceased five hours later.

According to news reports, on 21 June an explosion sent an ash cloud to a height of 800 m that extended ~25 km downwind and caused ashfall in the town of Chinandega, ~15 km SW. The same day, Jorge Cruz of Indiana Carcache and Martha Navarro of INETER visited the volcano and observed abundant gas-and-ash emissions. Gas sampled on 22 June contained 2.6 mg/m3 of SO2 and 250 ppm CO2. The low concentrations suggest weakened gas pressure and no new magmatic material.

During July 2001, San Cristóbal displayed reduced seismic tremor, but the number of volcanic earthquakes was high. More than 6,111 seismic events were registered, including long-period (LP) earthquakes and signals of small gas explosions. LP earthquakes are common at active volcanoes, and have been observed at other Nicaraguan volcanoes just before eruptions. This was the first time this type of signal had been observed at San Cristóbal, so it was not clear if they had occurred prior to or during past explosions. According to Chouet (1996), LP earthquakes are generated by resonance in fractures closed at their ends and filled with volcanic fluids (water or magma) with a certain dissolved gas level, in which an abrupt pressure change takes place. On 22 July at 0134, an LP earthquake was registered that lasted ~17 seconds with a dominant frequency of 1.2 Hz. Three seismic stations recorded the earthquakes, the most distant located ~15 km W of the volcano. In addition to these seismic data, Vicente Perez ascended the volcano during July and heard both landslides moving down the crater's walls and several rumblings.

During August 2001 tremor remained low to moderate and 4,552 earthquakes were registered. The number of earthquakes was high (averaging ~300 events per day) during 1-4 August, but began dropping gradually on 5 August. The dominant frequency of LP events was ~1 Hz. On 8 August tremor began to increase but the number of earthquakes decreased compared to the previous days. On 10 August, 9 seismic events were registered and tremor increased. On 11 August tremor stood at 30-40 RSAM units. Most of the earthquakes had dominant frequencies of 1-7 Hz. On 12 August, tremor increased again until it reached 80 RSAM units. The increase in tremor lasted until the evening of 13 August when it lowered to 30 RSAM units. During 14-15 August tremor increased again, reaching 90 RSAM units. On 14 August incandescence was visible in the crater for the first time during the current episode. INETER stated that gas and clouds above the summit crater were illuminated from below.

On 15 August beginning at 1620 a dense cloud was formed from continuous abundant out-gassing. Rumbling, incandescence, and explosions were observed during 15-17 August. On 16 August, Vicente Perez ascended the volcano to make observations and found an increase in fumarole temperatures. During 0900 through 1030, gas explosions occurred with columns that reached 400 m. Seismic tremor gradually decreased until approximately 1400 on 17 August when strong seismic activity began again. Fumarolic activity increased and small lagoons within the crater had dried. On 18 August tremor lowered to normal levels of 20 units RSAM. The absence of earthquakes and LP events was noted during this time. The dominant frequency of most of the tremor was 1.0-6.0 Hz. Ash explosions were observed until the afternoon of 19 August.

Based on the recent activity at San Cristóbal, INETER believes that magma rose slowly in the volcano's open conduit and remained close to the crater's floor, which allowed the incandescence observed at night. This was consistent with the observed increase in fumarole temperatures.

During September, seismic activity continued, along with degassing and noise in the interior of the crater. A total of 4,695 earthquakes were registered during the month. After the eruptive activity that occurred during August, San Cristóbal maintained a low level of tremor (less than 20 RSAM units). Tremor increased on 7 September, accompanied by earthquakes with dominant frequencies of 2-6 Hz that occurred every minute for 24 hours. Few LP events were registered. On 8 September, Perez again ascended the volcano and found a slight increase in the temperatures of most of the fumaroles. Abundant degassing took place during the month and noises were heard in the interior of the crater. During 17-19 September tremor increased again, and was accompanied by earthquakes that occurred in bands of time that lasted, on average, one hour. During the last week of September, another increase in tremor took place, as well as an increase in the number of earthquakes. On this occasion, tremor lasted several days and was accompanied by earthquakes approximately every hour.

During October 2001, seismic tremor remained at 20-40 RSAM units. The dominant frequency of tremor was 4-6 Hz. A total of 7,421 earthquakes were registered during the month. Most of the earthquakes had dominant frequencies of from 5 to over 10 Hz. Few events registered dominant frequencies less than 1 Hz. Despite the increase in earthquakes since June 2001, little eruptive activity has taken place (small ash explosions and gas emanations). During the month San Cristóbal displayed emanations of gas, ash, and noise in the interior of the crater. On the night of 3 October, Perez reported ashfall on surrounding communities. On 7 October, Perez ascended the volcano and reported that a collapse had occurred in the S part of the crater.

INETER reported that during the evening of 12 November small ash emissions at San Cristóbal produced ash clouds that remained around summit level. According to the Washington VAAC, on 12 November at 1645 GOES-8 imagery showed a small area of possible ash drifting NW. Ground observers noted moderate volcanic activity until 1800. Ash had dissipated by 2100 and the next day there were no ground reports of volcanic activity.

General Reference. Chouet, B.A., 1996, Volcano long-period seismicity: its source and uses in eruption forecasting: Nature v. 380, p. 309-316.

Geological Summary. The San Cristóbal volcanic complex, consisting of five principal volcanic edifices, forms the NW end of the Marrabios Range. The symmetrical 1745-m-high youngest cone, named San Cristóbal (also known as El Viejo), is Nicaragua's highest volcano and is capped by a 500 x 600 m wide crater. El Chonco, with several flank lava domes, is located 4 km W of San Cristóbal; it and the eroded Moyotepe volcano, 4 km NE of San Cristóbal, are of Pleistocene age. Volcán Casita, containing an elongated summit crater, lies immediately east of San Cristóbal and was the site of a catastrophic landslide and lahar in 1998. The Plio-Pleistocene La Pelona caldera is located at the eastern end of the complex. Historical eruptions from San Cristóbal, consisting of small-to-moderate explosive activity, have been reported since the 16th century. Some other 16th-century eruptions attributed to Casita volcano are uncertain and may pertain to other Marrabios Range volcanoes.

Information Contacts: Virginia Tenorio, Department of Geophysics, Instituto Nicaragüense de Estudios Territoriales (INETER), P.O. Box 1761, Managua, Nicaragua (URL: http://www.ineter.gob.ni/); La Noticia (URL: http://www.lanoticia.com.ni/); El Nuevo Diario (URL: http://www.elnuevodiario.com.ni/); La Prensa (URL: http://www.laprensa.com.ni/); Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC), Satellite Analysis Branch, NOAA/NESDIS/E/SP23, NOAA Science Center Room 401, Camp Springs, MD 20746, USA (URL: http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/).