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Report on San Miguel (El Salvador) — March 2020

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 45, no. 3 (March 2020)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke. Edited by Kadie L. Bennis.

San Miguel (El Salvador) Small ash emissions during 22 February 2020

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2020. Report on San Miguel (El Salvador) (Bennis, K.L., and Venzke, E., eds.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 45:3. Smithsonian Institution.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


San Miguel

El Salvador

13.434°N, 88.269°W; summit elev. 2130 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


San Miguel, locally known as Chaparrastique, is a stratovolcano located in El Salvador. Recent activity has consisted of occasional small ash explosions and ash emissions. Infrequent gas-and-steam and ash emissions were observed during this reporting period of June 2018-March 2020. The primary source of information for this report comes from El Salvador's Servicio Nacional de Estudios Territoriales (SNET) and special reports from the Ministero de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (MARN) in addition to various satellite data.

Based on Sentinel-2 satellite imagery and analyses of infrared MODIS data, volcanism at San Miguel from June 2018 to mid-February was relatively low, consisting of occasional gas-and-steam emissions. During 2019, a weak thermal anomaly in the summit crater was registered in thermal satellite imagery (figure 27). This thermal anomaly persisted during a majority of the year but was not visible after September 2019; faint gas-and-steam emissions could sometimes be seen rising from the summit crater.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 27. Sentinel-2 satellite imagery of a faint but consistent thermal anomaly at San Miguel during 2019. Images with "Atmospheric penetration" (bands 12, 11, 8A) rendering; courtesy of Sentinel Hub Playground.

Volcanism was prominent beginning on 13-20 February 2020 when SO2 emissions exceeded 620 tons/day (typical low SO2 values are less than 400 tons/day). During 20-21 February the amplitude of microearthquakes increased and minor emissions of gas-and-steam and SO2 were visible within the crater (figure 28). According to SNET and special reports from MARN, on 22 February at 1055 an ash cloud was visible rising 400 m above the crater rim (figure 29), resulting in minor ashfall in Piedra Azul (5 km SW). That same day RSAM values peaked at 550 units as recorded by the VSM station on the upper N flank, which is above normal values of about 150. Seismicity increased the day after the eruptive activity. Minor gas-and-steam emissions continued to rise 400 m above the crater rim during 23-24 February; the RSAM values fell to 33-97 units. Activity in March was relatively low; some seismicity, including small magnitude earthquakes, occurred during the month in addition to SO2 emissions ranging from 517 to 808 tons/day.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 28. Minor gas-and-steam emissions rising from the crater at San Miguel on 21 February 2020. Courtesy of Ministero de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (MARN).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 29. Gas-and-steam and ash emissions rising from the crater at San Miguel on 22 February 2020. Courtesy of Ministero de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (MARN).

Geologic Background. The symmetrical cone of San Miguel volcano, one of the most active in El Salvador, rises from near sea level to form one of the country's most prominent landmarks. The unvegetated summit rises above slopes draped with coffee plantations. A broad, deep crater complex that has been frequently modified by historical eruptions (recorded since the early 16th century) caps the truncated summit, also known locally as Chaparrastique. Radial fissures on the flanks of the basaltic-andesitic volcano have fed a series of historical lava flows, including several erupted during the 17th-19th centuries that reached beyond the base of the volcano on the N, NE, and SE sides. The SE-flank flows are the largest and form broad, sparsely vegetated lava fields crossed by highways and a railroad skirting the base of the volcano. The location of flank vents has migrated higher on the edifice during historical time, and the most recent activity has consisted of minor ash eruptions from the summit crater.

Information Contacts: Servicio Nacional de Estudios Territoriales (SNET), Ministero de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (MARN), Km. 5½ Carretera a Nueva San Salvador, Avenida las Mercedes, San Salvador, El Salvador (URL: http://www.snet.gob.sv/ver/vulcanologia); Sentinel Hub Playground (URL: https://www.sentinel-hub.com/explore/sentinel-playground).