Disruption of long-term effusive-explosive activity at Santiaguito, Guatemala

Oliver D. Lamb*, Anthony Lamur, Alejandro Díaz-Moreno, Silvio De Angelis, Adrian J. Hornby, Felix W. von Aulock, Jackie E. Kendrick, Paul A. Wallace, Ellen Gottschämmer, Andreas Rietbrock, Isaac Alvarez, Gustavo Chigna, Yan Lavallée

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rapid transitions in eruptive activity during lava dome eruptions pose significant challenges for monitoring and hazard assessment. A comprehensive understanding of the dynamic evolution of active lava dome systems requires extensive sets of multi-parametric datasets to fully constrain and understand shifts in eruptive behavior, but few such datasets have been compiled. The Santiaguito lava dome complex, Guatemala, is a remarkable example of an open-vent volcanic system where continuous eruptive activity has typically been characterized by cycles of effusion and frequent, small to moderate, gas-and-ash explosions. During 2015–2016 the volcano experienced a rapid intensification of activity including large vulcanian explosions, frequently accompanied by pyroclastic density currents. Here we present a chronology of the eruptive activity at Santiaguito from November 2014–May 2017, compiled from field observations (visual and thermal) and activity reports. We also present seismic and acoustic infrasound data collected during the same period, the longest and largest dataset collected at Santiaguito to date. Three major phases of eruptive activity took place during the study period. The first phase was consistent with the long-term eruptive behavior reported at Santiaguito by previous studies: lava effusion simultaneous with small (<1 km plume height), regular (25–200 min intervals), gas-and-ash explosions. The second phase from July 2015 to September 2016 was defined by large (<5–7 km plume height) vulcanian explosions at irregular intervals and often accompanied by pyroclastic density currents. The third phase was marked by a return to effusive activity in October 2016 interspersed by small, gas-rich explosions. Over 6,000 explosive events were recorded by seismic and infrasound during the study period and clearly delineate the three phases of activity at the volcano. Furthermore, we present the first documented geophysical evidence of explosion blast waves and volcano-tectonic earthquake swarms at Santiaguito. An important implication of our observations is that negative trends in explosion rates at silicic lava dome eruptions cannot be used alone as an indicator of future weaker activity and reduced hazard. This case study of Santiaguito will serve as a useful foundation for future studies of long-lived lava dome eruptions featuring rapid transitions between effusive and explosive activity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number253
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2019


  • Eruption chronology
  • Infrasound
  • Multiparametric monitoring
  • Santiaguito
  • Thermal infra-red imaging
  • Volcanic explosions
  • Volcano-seismology


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