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Report on Nevado del Ruiz (Colombia) — July 1986

Nevado del Ruiz

Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, vol. 11, no. 7 (July 1986)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Nevado del Ruiz (Colombia) Ash emissions preceded by B-type swarms and shallow events

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1986. Report on Nevado del Ruiz (Colombia) (McClelland, L., ed.). Scientific Event Alert Network Bulletin, 11:7. Smithsonian Institution.

Nevado del Ruiz


4.892°N, 75.324°W; summit elev. 5279 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Activity during 11 July-13 August. "For the first time in the present period of increased activity (since 20 April), strong ash emissions occurred on 20 and 29 July. Harmonic tremor changed its pattern, especially after the prolonged ash emission of 29 July, becoming stronger and changing spectra. Deformation slowed after the 20 July emission. Under the microscope, ash samples from both emissions showed no signs of juvenile origin.

"The first emission, on 20 July at 0600, was short (~2 minutes) and more vigorous, rising to >4 km above Arenas Crater. It also contained a visible amount of vapor. The 29 July emission, detected at 0630, lasted longer. Pulses of ash were observed between 0635 and 0758, but were less vigorous than on 20 July and vapor was not visible. The ash cloud spilled over the crater and down the W flank (over the Farallones). After 0758 the tremor decreased. Ash emission continued, at a lower rate and more steadily, until about noon. Dominant dry-season winds carried ash from both emissions at least 30-40 km to the W, but no change was observed in W flank streams, although the snow was covered with ash.

"Vigorous phases of both emissions were accompanied by strong tremor that partially saturated instruments. The most interesting feature of the seismic activity, however, preceded both ash emissions. Swarms of small B-type events, most visible at Refugio station 3.6 km W of Arenas Crater, started 7-8 hours before the emissions. Attempts to link this station by telemetry have been impeded for several weeks by high levels of gas and lack of accessible shelter in the area. Both emissions were also preceded by shallow seismic events occurring 20-120 minutes in advance.

"Both emissions produced 4-6 Hz tremor. After the 29 July emission, several tens of hours of tremor with a dominant component of 0.6-1.0 Hz were recorded at Recio (4 km SE of Arenas) and less strongly at Olleta (4 km W). Following several days of intermittent tremor, the tremor frequency increased again after 7 August to 4-5 Hz and showed strong variations in amplitude, which could be correlated between the three nearest telemetering stations Rubi (4.6 km N of the crater), Olleta, and Recio.

"During a period of low-amplitude tremor on 8 August, several shallow events and one A-type swarm (>20 events) occurred, followed by ash emission. Ash emissions that were considerably smaller than those of 20 and 29 July were seen 9 and 10 August. Activity declined 11-12 August, but increased again on the morning of the 13th, when alternating emissions of pulsating ash plumes and vapor were observed.

"Deformation started to slow simultaneously with the 20 July emission, but still showed changes reflecting inflation at most stations."

Geological Summary. Nevado del Ruiz is a broad, glacier-covered volcano in central Colombia that covers more than 200 km2. Three major edifices, composed of andesitic and dacitic lavas and andesitic pyroclastics, have been constructed since the beginning of the Pleistocene. The modern cone consists of a broad cluster of lava domes built within the caldera of an older edifice. The 1-km-wide, 240-m-deep Arenas crater occupies the summit. The prominent La Olleta pyroclastic cone located on the SW flank may also have been active in historical time. Steep headwalls of massive landslides cut the flanks. Melting of its summit icecap during historical eruptions, which date back to the 16th century, has resulted in devastating lahars, including one in 1985 that was South America's deadliest eruption.

Information Contacts: H. Meyer, INGEOMINAS, Manizales.