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Report on Machin (Colombia) — April 2011


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 36, no. 4 (April 2011)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Machin (Colombia) Seismic and non-eruptive unrest detected in 2004, 2008, 2009, and again in 2010

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2011. Report on Machin (Colombia) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 36:4. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN201104-351040



4.487°N, 75.389°W; summit elev. 2749 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

This is the first Bulletin report on Cerro Machín volcano, the site of seismic unrest for many years, most recently, 1992, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2009, and 2010. This activity did not lead to eruptions. Instrumental monitoring by INGEOMINAS began in 1987 and has determined Machín's background seismicity ranged from 1 to10 earthquakes/day, but during intervals of unrest, seismicity sometimes reached several hundred earthquakes per day.

This is a small but explosive volcano located at the S end of the Ruiz-Tolima massif, 185 km NNE of the Nevado del Huila volcano and 147 km WSW of Bogotá, the capital (figure 1). (Tolima volcano, not shown, lies ~22 km NNE of Machín.)

Figure (see Caption) Figure 1. Map of Colombia showing the location of the Machín volcano. Note the Departments (states) of Tolima (1) and Huila (2) are shaded regions. Courtesy of the IFRC and Relief Web.

Machín caldera contains three dacitic domes; the 3-km-wide caldera is breached to the S. According to Mendez and others (2002), there have been six eruptions within the past 10,000 years. In the same report, the authors noted geomorphological similarities between Machín and Pinatubo prior to its large 1991 eruption. The seismic events have drawn increased attention to Machín from the Volcanic and Seismological Observatory of Manizales, Colombia Institute of Geology and Mining (INGEOMINAS).

According to news articles published in mid-May 2004, INGEOMINAS reported that there had been an increase in seismicity at Machín in April. About 60 earthquakes were recorded daily (in comparison to the 1-10 earthquakes normally recorded); however, no surface changes were seen at that time at the volcano.

There was no further significant seismic activity until the first week of January 2008 when INGEOMINAS reported unusual seismicity at Machín during 6-8 January. Long-period earthquakes were detected S of the main lava dome. On 7 January, the volcano-tectonic seismic signals were occasionally felt and reported by nearby residents. The simultaneous occurrence of both types of seismic signals was unusual for Machín. Again, the activity diminished to the previous background levels until 9 November when INGEOMINAS reported a cluster of ~375 earthquakes, the majority of which were located towards the E sector and below the dome of the volcano with depths between 2.5 and 5 km. The earthquake activity occurred underneath the central and E parts of the lava dome complex in the summit caldera and fumarolic activity in the area increased. During 8-10 November 2008, Machín registered 1,210 volcano-tectonic earthquakes, 9 of which were M 2.5. According to news articles, approximately 400-450 people evacuated to shelters or other safe areas. There were also reports of landslides that blocked a highway.

Table 1 and figure 2 detail the local villages in proximity to Machín.

Table 1. Villages in proximity to Machín and the respective distances from the caldera (approximate). Taken from web sources such as Google Earth.

Village/town Crater distance (km) Direction
El Rodeo 96 NNW
Santa Marte 15 NNE
Aguacaliente 23 SSW
Toche 62 NW
Cajamarca 8 SSW
Ibague 17 ESE
Salento 24 NW
Circasia 31 WNW
Calarca 30 W
Figure (see Caption) Figure 2. A regional map showing population centers and paved and unpaved roads. Courtesy of INGEOMINAS.

On 10 November the seismic activity of the volcano diminished to background conditions. On 17 December INGEOMINAS reported that a swarm of 98 earthquakes occurred at Machín SE of the lava domes at depths of 2-6 km. The largest earthquake was M 2.6 at a depth of ~4 km.

There were two significant seismic events at Machín during 2009. On 31 July there was in increase in seismic activity, which consisted of ~200 events. Initially the increase was gradual, however, during the last hour the activity increased abruptly and included an earthquake of M 2.7. This subsided to a background level until early December when INGEOMINAS detected 54 earthquakes, some M ~ 1.3. Authorities issued a "Yellow" alert (Yellow; "changes in the behavior of volcanic activity") for Machín. The Tolima Regional Emergency Committee conducted evacuation training with local communities as a precaution.

INGEOMINAS reported that on 24 July 2010 a seismic crisis at Machín was characterized by volcano-tectonic earthquakes. An M 2.6 earthquake was located S of the main lava dome at a depth of ~4 km. The next day an M 4.1 volcano-tectonic earthquake occurred 0.8 km S of the main dome at a depth of ~3.9 km. The Yellow alert remained in effect following the increase in registered seismic activity in the area. On 29 July the number of volcano-tectonic events again increased; the earthquakes were a maximum M 1.7 and between 3 and 4 km depth, S of the main dome.

On 17 September 2010, INGEOMINAS again reported increased seismicity. About 140 volcano-tectonic earthquakes as large as M 1.85 were located S and SW of the main lava dome at depths of 2-4 km. On 4 October there was an M 3.5 tectonic earthquake located 0.37 km S of the main dome at a depth of ~4.14 km. Residents near the volcano felt this earthquake. The Alert Level remained at Yellow.

On 3 December 2010 about 340 volcano-tectonic earthquakes with low magnitudes were located SW of the main lava dome, at an average depth of 4 km. The largest event, a M 3.7 earthquake located SW of the dome at a depth of about 3.5 km, was felt by local residents. On 31 December INGEOMINAS reported a period of increased seismicity. A total of 346 volcano-tectonic events no stronger than M 2.1 were located S and SW of the main lava dome.

On 1 January 2011 seismicity again increased, and at the time of the report, 367 events had been detected. The low-magnitude events were located S and SW of the main dome at depths between 2.5 and 4.5 km. The largest event, M 2.3, was located S of the dome at a depth of about 3.3 km and felt by residents near the volcano and in the municipality of Cajamarca, 8 km SSW. On 13 January an increased number of earthquakes were located to the W and SW of the main dome at depth of 2.5-3.5 km. The largest event registered M ~2.6 and was reported to have been felt by residents near the volcano.

Since 1989, INGEOMINAS noted a gradual increase in seismicity has been following the events closely in order to report any changes on the volcano's activities (figure 3). All the local emergency committees were activated in the area near Machín volcano in addition to the regional emergency committees in Tolima District.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 3. Map showing potential hazards from hypothetical future activity at Machín. Thicknesses of potential ash fall to the W are shown (in cm) as modeled by computer-aided dispersion modeling (VAFTAD); PF stands for pyroclastic flow deposits. Adaped from INGEOMINAS (2007).

References. Méndez, RA; Cortés, GP; and Cepeda, H; [Calvache, ML, Project Chief], 2002, Evaluacíon de la Amenaza Volcánica Potencial del Cerro Machín (Departamento del Tolima, Colombia), Manizales, Sept. 2002, INGEOMINAS, 66 p. (in Spanish).

Méndez, RA, Cortés, GP, and Cepeda, H., 2007, Evaluacíon amenazas potencial de volcan Cerro Machín [Large map in Spanish taken from 2002 report of same name. Name in English, 'Evaluation of potenial hazards from volcan Cerro Machín'] Mapa Amenaza Volcán Machín, INGEOMINAS (URL: http://intranet.ingeominas.gov.co/manizales/images/5/55/MAPA_AMENAZA_VOLCAN_MACHIN.jpg)

Geological Summary. The small Cerro Machín stratovolcano lies at the southern end of the Ruiz-Tolima massif about 20 km WNW of the city of Ibagué. A 3-km-wide caldera is breached to the south and contains three forested dacitic lava domes. Voluminous pyroclastic flows traveled up to 40 km away during eruptions in the mid-to-late Holocene, perhaps associated with formation of the caldera. Late-Holocene eruptions produced dacitic block-and-ash flows that traveled through the breach in the caldera rim to the west and south. The latest known eruption of took place about 800 years ago.

Information Contacts: Instituto Colombiano de Geologia y Mineria (INGEOMINAS), Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Manizales, Manizales, Colombia; Relief Web (URL: https://reliefweb.int/); International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) (URL: http://www.ifrc.org/); Caracol Radio; El Tiempo:Portafolio (URL: http://columbiareports.com).