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Report on Santa Maria (Guatemala) — March 1981

Santa Maria

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 6, no. 3 (March 1981)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Santa Maria (Guatemala) Explosive activity continues

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1981. Report on Santa Maria (Guatemala) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 6:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.SEAN198103-342030

Santa Maria


14.757°N, 91.552°W; summit elev. 3745 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

On several occasions between 17 February and 2 March, R. W. Hodder and a group of students observed explosive activity at Santiaguito Dome. They saw morning eruptions from Caliente Vent on 17, 23, 24, 26, 27, and 28 February and 2 March, and late afternoon eruptions on 17 February and 2 March.

The group climbed Santiaguito on 23 and 24 February. During one eruption, accretionary lapilli fell, followed by raindrops coated with fine ash. About 1000 on 26 February, a large 30-minute eruption of gas with very little ash occurred from Caliente Vent. The eruption column rose to about 1,800 m, reaching a diameter of about 500 m (much larger than any other observed by Hodder's group) and forming a well-developed anvil-shaped top. At its maximum, the upper 25% of the column was ash-poor, nearly white vapor while the lower 75% darkened downward to a light brown (lighter colored than the 12 February eruption column described last month).

The group saw eruptions at 1000 and 1115 on 28 February during 5 hours of observations. The first consisted of a single 10-minute pulse that sent a vapor column to about 500 m above the vent. The second comprised four pulses in 30 minutes. Each pulse began with a white-topped column that developed a light tan base and an anvil-shaped top as it rose as much as 1,500 m above the vent. Between each pulse there was intense fuming.

Dartmouth College scientists climbed to the summit of Santa María on the morning of 24 March. They provided the following report.

"The plug dome previously observed in the crater of Caliente Vent was clearly visible and appeared to be covered with huge blocks of light gray lava. Four eruptions occurred within 3 hours with repose periods of 20 minutes, 1 hour, and 1 hour 40 minutes. Each was ash-rich and clearly audible from the summit (a distance of 2.8 km). All rose in the gas-thrust phase to approximately the elevation of the summit (a vertical distance of 1,272 m) and beyond convectively.

"Avalanches in the crater and down the SW flank occurred every 5-15 minutes suggesting nearly continuous activity of the dome. The several hundred meter-long lava flow, visible on the SW flank in February 1980 was not visible from the summit but avalanche clouds rising from that area suggested that it was still active there.

"One large fumarole in the NW part of the plug dome was continuously and very vigorously degassing, remaining essentially unchanged even during eruptions. All four eruptions began in the NE and E region of the crater and lasted 2-4 minutes."

Geological Summary. Symmetrical, forest-covered Santa MarĂ­a volcano is part of a chain of large stratovolcanoes that rise above the Pacific coastal plain of Guatemala. The sharp-topped, conical profile is cut on the SW flank by a 1.5-km-wide crater. The oval-shaped crater extends from just below the summit to the lower flank, and was formed during a catastrophic eruption in 1902. The renowned Plinian eruption of 1902 that devastated much of SW Guatemala followed a long repose period after construction of the large basaltic-andesite stratovolcano. The massive dacitic Santiaguito lava-dome complex has been growing at the base of the 1902 crater since 1922. Compound dome growth at Santiaguito has occurred episodically from four vents, with activity progressing E towards the most recent, Caliente. Dome growth has been accompanied by almost continuous minor explosions, with periodic lava extrusion, larger explosions, pyroclastic flows, and lahars.

Information Contacts: R. Hodder, Univ. of Western Ontario; T. Bornhorst, C. Chesner, W. Rose, Jr., Michigan Tech. Univ.; S. Williams, M. Mort, Dartmouth College.