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Report on Galeras (Colombia) — February 2003


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 28, no. 2 (February 2003)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke.

Galeras (Colombia) Phreatic explosion in June 2002; increased long-period seismicity in late 2002

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2003. Report on Galeras (Colombia) (Venzke, E., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 28:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200302-351080



1.22°N, 77.37°W; summit elev. 4276 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

A slight increase in the number of volcano-tectonic (VT) and long-period (LP) events occurred during April through September 2002, although the energy levels diminished. Between October and December 2002, scientists noted a small decrease in VT seismicity and a considerable increase in seismic activity related to fluid-movement. An increase in LP signals, difficult to classify due to their non-typical signatures, coincided with strong rainfall over Pasto and the volcano. The geothermal system at Galeras, with fumarolic zones having temperatures between 100 and 370°C, easily interacts with rainwater, producing exothermic reactions with seismic and near-surface manifestations.

During April-June, there were 191 VT events with a seismic energy release of 1.08 x 1016 erg. Both the number of events and the total energy increased during July-September, when 209 VT events with a seismic energy release of 5.64 x 1015 erg were recorded. In comparison, there were 197 VT events with an energy release of 2.86 x 1015 erg during October-December. The vast majority of the events occurred close to the active crater and in the volcanic edifice. Other earthquakes occurred at depths of 0.2-16 km beneath the summit throughout the second half of 2002.

Volcano-tectonic earthquakes were felt in Pasto on 8 April (2 km deep, ML 3.6), 17 April (2 km deep, ML 4.2), 28 April (12 km deep, ML 3.2), 24 May (8 km deep, ML 2.3), 21 June (9 km deep, ML 3.0), 22 July (5 km deep, ML 2.7), and 1 November (5 km depth, ML 3.2, 3.8 km from the crater). The 17 April event was followed by 12 aftershocks from the main crater area; the strongest was ML 2.6. In Consacá, two events were felt on 12 August within 4 minutes of each other (5 km deep, ML 2.9 and 3.4). The strongest 12 August earthquake was located ~6 km SW of the crater. A strong event on 20 December (4 km deep, ML 3.6) was felt in the town of Yacuanquer and was centered ~5 km SW of the active crater.

During April-June, 111 LP events and 82 spasmodic tremor episodes were registered with a total energy release of 2.89 x 1014 erg. Some spasmodic tremor episodes were harmonic, with dominant frequencies of 2.5-2.7 Hz. Seismic events related to fluid movements during July through September had low frequencies between 2 and 3 Hz and high frequencies of 10.5, 12.1, 13.7, and 14.1 Hz. These frequencies appeared all over the local reporting stations. In total, there were 161 registered LP events and 17 spasmodic tremor episodes with a total energy release of 1.1 x 1014 erg. In addition, some spasmodic tremor episodes were of the harmonic type with dominant frequencies of 2.5 and 3.0 Hz. During October-December the frequencies exhibited spikes between 10 and 16 Hz. Sometimes these events showed one or more precursor signals with very short amplitude and appeared in doubles or triplets. The frequencies kept on time over many stations indicating a processes more directly related to the source rather than the path or station site. Overall, there were 1,541 LP events and 209 spasmodic tremor episodes in October-December with a total energy release of 2.65 x 1015 erg.

Reactivation of El Pinta Crater. Slight gas emissions were observed at the end of May from the El Pinta crater (E of the main crater), inactive since 1991. On 5 June 2002 began the number of daily seismic events increased. A team visiting the summit on 7 June noted an increase in the quantity and pressure of gas emissions at different points of the main crater and in El Pinta. However, temperatures did not show significant variations compared to previous months. Elevated temperatures were observed toward the SW sector of the active cone with values of 340°C at the Las Chavas fumarole field. Also on 7 June spasmodic tremor was registered at the observatory that signified a hydrothermal event. A subsequent field inspection observed a fine layer of ash and precipitate sulfur, besides great gas emission from El Pinta. The material emitted by El Pinta consisted of lapilli, ash, and clay; a high percentage of the sample was pre-existing material. Some reports of gas emissions coincide with spasmodic tremor records at the Galeras observatory site. After 11 June this activity began to decrease. The VT earthquakes that accompanied this activity were located in the main crater zone with depths to 3 km.

Geological Summary. Galeras, a stratovolcano with a large breached caldera located immediately west of the city of Pasto, is one of Colombia's most frequently active volcanoes. The dominantly andesitic complex has been active for more than 1 million years, and two major caldera collapse eruptions took place during the late Pleistocene. Long-term extensive hydrothermal alteration has contributed to large-scale edifice collapse on at least three occasions, producing debris avalanches that swept to the west and left a large open caldera inside which the modern cone has been constructed. Major explosive eruptions since the mid-Holocene have produced widespread tephra deposits and pyroclastic flows that swept all but the southern flanks. A central cone slightly lower than the caldera rim has been the site of numerous small-to-moderate eruptions since the time of the Spanish conquistadors.

Information Contacts: Marta Calvache, Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Pasto (OVSP), INGEOMINAS, Carrera 31, 18-07 Parque Infantil, P.O. Box 1795, Pasto, Colombia (URL: https://www2.sgc.gov.co/volcanes/index.html).