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Report on Irazu (Costa Rica) — December 2003


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 28, no. 12 (December 2003)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Irazu (Costa Rica) Tranquil in 2001-3; fumarolic condensate of pH 2.0-3.5, 0-2 earthquakes/day

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2003. Report on Irazu (Costa Rica) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 28:12. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200312-345060


Costa Rica

9.979°N, 83.852°W; summit elev. 3436 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

This report consists of contributions from investigators at OVSICORI-UNA and UCR-ICE, who both monitor Irazú. Small-magnitude seismicity and stable fumarolic and crater lake conditions were noted in the previous Irazú report (BGVN 26:10). Weak seismicity and stable conditions continued through at least December 2003.

OVSICORI-UNA observations. Seismicity and fumarolic emissions at the volcano remained low over the reporting interval September 2001 to December 2003.

The color of the principal crater lake varied from greenish yellow (January, October, and December 2002; January and May 2003) to light yellow (June 2002), to yellow (February and March 2002), and strong yellow (February, March, and April 2003). From May 2003 on the color remained green, particularly dark green. The strong yellow color correlated with mass wasting from the crater walls, which introduced strongly colored fine-grained material into the lake. On 8 February 2003 the color briefly shifted from yellow to reddish due to mass wasting in zones along the E and ENE walls. The February mass-wasting events did not produce definable seismic signals at the volcano's sole station (IRZ2, located 5 km from the crater).

In January, September, October, and November 2002, the lake's surface was comparatively high, covering the crater floor. An interval of dry weather with consequent lower lake levels, bubbling along the lake's margins, and small landslides into the crater were noted during February and March 2002. In March and April 2002, the lake temperature was 17°C. During March 2002, fumaroles on the NE shore had temperatures of 39-50°C. The lake temperature measured 15°C during November 2002, with one fumarole measuring 42°C. During August 2003 a fumarolic temperature of 47°C was measured on the NE lake shore.

The highest temperature of the reporting interval was in July 2003 when the NE-flank fumarole was measured at 88°C (N-flank fumarole temperatures over 80°C have been reported for almost 40 years).

Seismicity seldom averaged more than about one or two local earthquakes per day (table 7). A few volcano-tectonic and long-period earthquakes were reported (e.g., 6 LP earthquakes in September 2001; 2 in November 2002; and 4 in May 2003). Tremor was not reported.

Table 7. Earthquakes registered at the Irazú seismic instrument, 5 km SW of the crater. "--" indicates a lack of mention or a malfunctioning system. When the system functioned for only part of the month, the number of functional days is in parenthesis. Courtesy of OVSICORI-UNA.

Month Total earthquakes (days of operation)
Sep 2001 39 (20 days)
Oct 2001 56
Nov 2001 --
Dec 2001 --
Jan 2002 50
Feb 2002 23 (16 days)
Mar 2002 50
Apr 2002 --
May 2002 --
Jun 2002 54
Jul 2002 19
Aug 2002 11
Sep 2002 --
Oct 2002 24
Nov 2002 29
Dec 2002 --
Jan 2003 16
Feb 2003 20
Mar 2003 15
Apr 2003 7
May 2003 24
Jun 2003 11
Jul 2003 8
Aug 2003 23
Sep 2003 29
Oct 2003 43
Nov 2003 11
Dec 2003 --

UCR-ICE observations. Mora (2001 and 2002) presented monthly temperature and condensate-pH data for a sulfurous fumarole on the outer N slopes of Irazú. Measurements of the temperature began in 2001. The temperature remained at 90.0 ± 1°C throughout that year except in June (88.6°C) and December (86.0°C). The year 2002 began with the fumarole at 79.6°C in January, but by April it was at 89.6°C and remained relatively constant (87.5-89.6°C) until cooling in December to 86.5°C. The cooler fumarole temperatures seen annually around December-January are well established and are thought to be caused by cool water descending from the summit into the headwater regions.

During the period January-August 2002, the pH of the fumarole's condensate was 2.0; increasing to 3.5 in September, and remaining near that value (3.0-3.5) throughout the rest of year. During 2002 the crater lake level changed by less than ~ 2 m overall. Mora commented that the green-colored water seen frequently in 2002 was the result of algae adapting to the low-pH conditions.

Heavy rains during November and December 2001 formed an ephemeral lake on the floor of the inactive oblong-shaped Diego de la Haya crater (SE of the principal crater), which grew to ~ 100 x 20 m.

References. Mora, R., 2002, Informe anual de la actividad de la Cordillera Volcánica Central, 2002, Costa Rica (proofed and revised by Alvarado, G., Fernández, M., Mora, M., Paniagua S., and Ramírez, C.): Universidad de Costa Rica, Red Sismológica Nacional, UCR-ICE, Sección de Sismología, Vulcanología y Exploración Geofísica (published June 2003 as mini-CD Rom with PDF files).

Mora, R., 2001a, Informe semestral de la actividad de la Cordillera Volcánica Central, Enero-Junio 2001, Costa Rica: Universidad de Costa Rica, Red Sismológica Nacional, UCR-ICE, Sección de Sismología, Vulcanología y Exploración Geofísica (published November 2001 as mini-CD Rom with PDF files).

Mora, R., 2001b, Informe semestral de la actividad de la Cordillera Volcánica Central, Julio-Diciembre 2001, Costa Rica (proofed and revised by Alvarado, G., Fernández, M., Montero, W., and Ramírez, C.): Universidad de Costa Rica, Red Sismológica Nacional, UCR-ICE, Sección de Sismología, Vulcanología y Exploración Geofísica (published 6 May 2001 as mini-CD Rom with PDF files).

Geological Summary. The massive Irazú volcano in Costa Rica, immediately E of the capital city of San José, covers an area of 500 km2 and is vegetated to within a few hundred meters of its broad summit crater complex. At least 10 satellitic cones are located on its S flank. No lava effusion is known since the eruption of the Cervantes lava flows from S-flank vents about 14,000 years ago, and all known Holocene eruptions have been explosive. The focus of eruptions at the summit crater complex has migrated to the W towards the main crater, which contains a small lake. The first well-documented eruption occurred in 1723, and frequent explosive eruptions have occurred since. Ashfall from the last major eruption during 1963-65 caused significant disruption to San José and surrounding areas. Phreatic activity reported in 1994 may have been a landslide event from the fumarolic area on the NW summit (Fallas et al., 2018).

Information Contacts: E. Fernández, E. Duarte, E. Malavassi, R. Sáenz, V. Barboza, R. Van der Laat, T. Marino, E. Hernández, and F. Chavarría, Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica (OVSICORI-UNA), Apartado 86-3000, Heredia, Costa Rica; Jorge Barquero and Wendy Sáenz, Laboratory de Química de la Atmósfera (LAQAT), Depto. de Química, Universidad Nacional, Heredia, Costa Rica; María Martínez (at both affiliations above); Orlando Vaselli and Franco Tassi, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Florence, Via La Pira 4, 50121 Florence, Italy; R. Mora (Amador), C. Ramírez, and M. Fernández, Universidad de Costa Rica, Laboratory de Sismología, Vulcanología y Exploración Geofisico, Apptd. 560-2300, Curridabat, San José, Costa Rica.