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Report on San Cristobal (Nicaragua) — October 2003

San Cristobal

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 28, no. 10 (October 2003)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke.

San Cristobal (Nicaragua) Intermittent ash emissions between August 2002 and September 2003

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2003. Report on San Cristobal (Nicaragua) (Venzke, E., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 28:10. Smithsonian Institution.

San Cristobal


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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

This report summarizes the recorded activity at San Cristóbal during August 2002-September 2003. Reports from Instituto Nicaragüense de Estudios Territoriales (INETER) include observations from frequent visits to the volcano.

August-December 2002. During August-December 2002, abundant gas emanations were accompanied by small gas explosions. Incandescence was frequently observed. Seismicity was relatively high, but fluctuated from month to month (table 2). On 12 August, ash emissions with columns up to 800 m high were observed. More ash explosions were reported on 17 and 21 August. Gas emissions and small ash explosions continued in September, and incandescence was observed during 1-7 September. A strong explosion was reported on 6 October, and a dark gas column was observed. Throughout the month gas emissions were abundant, occasionally with columns to 600 m high. Temperatures at the South Point and El Zopilote fumaroles increased in October from the previous month. Gas emissions and ash explosions continued in November and December, with increased activity on 22 November and 16 December. Trees and fruit plants were affected by the gases in the community of Las Banderas. At the end of December, a volcano observer discovered that the path to the volcano was blocked by a deposit of sand-sized material.

Table 2. Number of earthquakes at San Cristóbal between August 2002 and June 2003. No data was available during November 2002 due to technical problems. Courtesy of INETER.

Month Number of earthquakes
Aug 2002 2,183
Sep 2002 2,792
Oct 2002 1,017
Nov 2002 --
Dec 2002 200-250 / day
Jan 2003 5,671
Feb 2003 2,595
Mar 2003 5,329
Apr 2003 1,713
May 2003 5,491
Jun 2003 4,855

January-March 2003. Activity decreased in the first few months of 2003. No changes were observed in the crater in January, and temperatures increased only at two fumaroles; those temperatures were low again in February. On 19 February the observer heard loud sustained noises and noted that the crater walls were colored green and yellow, indicating the presence of sulfur.

April-September 2003. Between April and September, fumarole temperatures were measured on each of the monthly visits to San Cristóbal, and showed very little change. The highest temperatures were generally found at South Point and were between 91 and 95°C. At El Munecho temperatures varied between 81 and 91°C, and at El Conejo between 77 and 86°C. Temperatures remained moderate at the other fumaroles.

Gas emissions were noted in particular between 20 and 23 April, days on which there were small increases in tremor; on 10 May gas emissions were strong enough to impede a visit. Activity increased in June, with abundant ash and gas emissions noted on 17 and 21 June. On 21 June incandescence was noted, and strong rumbling was heard in the evening. On 13 July gas emissions were dense, followed during 14-23 July by a dark column. Seismicity dropped from more than 350 events per day to 69 events on 3 July. By 9 July, only eight events per day were recorded; tremor remained constant at 35 RSAM units.

Gas emissions remained constant through August and September, with reports of gas explosions during a visit on 10 August and abundant gases during the 17 September visit. The strong noises and sounds of gas pressure being released decreased over these months, and no noise was noted on the September visit. Seismicity was very low in August and September, with no earthquakes and very low tremors in August, and only six earthquakes in September.

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, Emilio Talavera, and Martha Navarro, Instituto Nicaragüense de Estudios Territoriales (INETER), Apartado Postal 2110, Managua, Nicaragua (URL: http://www.ineter.gob.ni/).