Created by: Anna Colvin
For: Geology of Central America
Taught by: Dr. Bill Rose
Last Updated December 2006

Welcome to the Volcanism in Central America webpage! This webpage presents infomation about remote sensing and volcanology in Central America.  The Central American arc hosts more than 70 volcanoes which have been active during the Holocene, many of which are currently active. This large number of volcanoes and high level of activity makes Central America a great natural laboratory to study active volcanism.  There are some studies underway to understand the Central American volcanic arc as a whole, for example the Subduction Factory (see below), but there is ample opportunity for student and professional research projects. This webpage presents some resources available for volcano monitoring and satellite remote sensing of Central American volcanoes.

General Information

You can check up on active volcanoes at the Smithsonian/USGS
Weekly Volcanic Activity report http://www.volcano.si.edu/reports/usgs/index.cfm

Smithsonian's Global Volcanism Program: Volcanoes of Mexico and Central America  http://www.hrw.com/science/si-science/earth/tectonics/volcano/volcano/region14/- and http://www.volcano.si.edu/world/region.cfm?rnum=14

Volcanoes of Central America (2006) on CD-ROM by L. Siebert, P. Kimberly, C. Calvin, J. Luhr, and G. Kysar Mattietti. Smithsonian Institution, Global Volcanism Program, Digital Information Series, GVP-7. CD-ROM can be ordered from  http://www.volcano.si.edu/info/products/centamcd/centamcd.cfm

Glynn-Williams Jone's website has a focus on Latin American volcanoes, with a volcanology-related bookstore and a lising of professionals who work in Latin America. http://volcanoes.ca/index.html

Subduction Factory

from the Margins-NSF Program http://www.nsf-margins.org/index.html

Subduction of oceanic plates causes earthquakes, tsunamis and explosive volcanism. Subduction also gives rise to beneficial products, such as ore deposits, geothermal energy and the very ground we live on. The Subduction Factory recycles raw materials from the seafloor and underlying mantle, creates products on the upper plate in the form of melts, aqueous fluids and gases, and modulates the dynamics of plate tectonics. The Subduction Factory Initiative (SubFac) aims to study fluxes through the subduction zone to address three fundamental science themes:

  1. How do forcing functions such as convergence rate and upper plate thickness regulate production of magma and fluid from the Subduction Factory?
  2. How does the volatile cycle (H2O and CO2) impact chemical, physical and biological processes from trench to deep mantle?
  3. What is the mass balance of chemical species and material across the Subduction Factory, and how does this balance affect continental growth and evolution?
These themes will be addressed by focused investigations on active subduction Zones. The Central American and Izu-Bonin-Mariana (IBM) subduction systems were selected for focussed study by the geoscientific community during a series of open meetings based on the following criteria: ample volcanic and seismic activity, accessibility to both input and output, along-strike variations in forcing functions, cross-arc and historical perspectives, minimal upper plate contamination of magmas, and ability to address the primary science objectives, and because they have contrasting tectonic and chemical characteristics, allowing different forcing functions to be investigated and modelled.

Click here for some recent (2001-2006) Central America MARGINS publications http://www.nsf-margins.org/SEIZE/CR-N/References.html

Volcano Monitoring

Many Central American volcanoes are monitored by volcano observatories, government organizations and university research centers. Here isa listing of World Organizaion of Volcano Observatories (WOVO) in Central America and Mexico (http://www.wovo.org/dir-contents.htm) and the volcanoes they monitor.

1) Observatorio Vulcanologico, Universidad de Colima.  http://www.ucol.mx/volcan/
Volcanoes Monitored: Volcan de Colima.

2) Popocatepetl Volcano Observatory (POVO); Centro Nacional de Prevencion de Desastres (CENAPRED); Instituto de Geofisica, Universidad National Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM).  http://www.cenapred.unam.mx/
Volcanoes Monitored: Popocatepetl.


1) Instituto Simologia, Vulcanologia, Meteorologia y Hydrologia (INSIVUMEH).  http://www.insivumeh.gob.gt/
Volcanoes Monitored: Santiaguito.

2) Coordinacion Nacional para la Reducción de Desastres (CONRED).  http://www.conred.org/principal.php
Volcanoes Monitored: Santiaguito, Fuego, Pacaya.

El Salvador:
1) Servicio Nacional de Estudios Territoriales (SNET), Ministerio De Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales.  http://www.snet.gob.sv/Geologia/Vulcanologia/inicio.htm
Volcanoes Monitored: Santa Ana, San Salvador, San Miguel, Izalco, San Vincente, Ilopango.

2) Instituto de Ciencias de la Tierra, UNIVERSIDAD DE EL SALVADOR (UES), San Salvador. http://www.ues.edu.sv/
Volcanoes Monitored: Geochemical and geophysical monitoring.

1) Instituto Nicaraguense de Estudios Territoriales (INETER), Nicaragua. http://www.ineter.gob.ni/geofisica/vol/dep-vol.html
Volcanoes Monitored: San Cristóbal, Telica, Cerro Negro, Momotombo, Masaya, Volcán Concepción.

Costa Rica

1) Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica (OVSICORI).  http://www.ovsicori.una.ac.cr/
Volcanoes Monitored: Rincon de la Vieja, Arenal, Poás, Irazú and Turrialba.

2) Observatorio Sismológico y Vulcanológico de Arenal y Miravalles (OSIVAM), Oficina de Sismología y Vulcanología (OSV), Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE).  http://www.rsn.geologia.ucr.ac.cr/
Volcanoes Monitored: Arenal, Miravalles, Rincon de la Vieja.

Satellite Remote Sensing

A variety of satellite remote sensing data is available for Central America via the web.  Satellite data can be used to measure temperature, gas output, topography, etc. Some satellite imagery are available free of charge, e.g. AVHRR or MODIS, and while others are available for a nominal cost, e.g. ASTER. This is a list of several valuable satellite remote sensing resources.

The NASA's EOS Data Gateway provides many data types, including Landsat, ASTER, MODIS, AVHRR, OMI, and TOMS. http://delenn.gsfc.nasa.gov/~imswww/pub/imswelcome/

More info. on GOES from NOAA: http://www.oso.noaa.gov/goes/

More info. on MODIS:  http://modis.gsfc.nasa.gov/

MODVOLC, the near-real-time automated hotspot detection system operated by University of Hawaii: http://modis.higp.hawaii.edu/

Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, SOEST, operates a near-real-time hotspot monitoring system for GOES: http://goes.higp.hawaii.edu/cgi-bin/imageview?zoom=1&xoffset=150&yoffset=150&xcenter=548&ycenter=806&pixrep=2&siteidx=3&dayidx=74&frameidx=44&frametype2=1&frametype1=0 

INETER, Nicaragua, operates an AVHRR HRPT Receiving Station which archives data for Central America: http://sat-server.ineter.gob.ni/page03/countries.htm
check out: Introduction to the Monitoring of Volcanic Thermal Activity in Central America via AVHRR Satellite Remote Sensing by MJ Wooster and P Webley.

JPL runs the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (STRM), which provides near-global elevation data. 90m spatial resolution DEMs are available for Central America: http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/srtm/

Selected Bibliography

Andres, R. J., and Rose, W. I., 1995, Description of thermal anomalies on two active Guatemalan volcanoes using Landsat thematic mapper imagery, Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing, 61, no. 6, 775-782.

Burton, M. R., and Oppenheimer, C., 2000, Remote sensing of CO (sub 2) and H (sub 2) O emission rates from Masaya Volcano, Nicaragua, Geology, 28, no. 10, 915-918.

Cameron, B.I., and Walker, J.A., 2006, Diverse volcanism in southeastern Guatemala: The role of crustal contamination, in: eds. Rose et al., Geological Society of America Special Paper 412, Volcanic Hazards in Central America, 121-139.

Carr, M.J., Feigenson, M.D., Patino, L.C., and Walker, J.A., 2003, Volcanism and Geochemistry in Central America: Progress and Problems, Inside the Subduction Factory, Geophysical Monograph v. 138; p.153-179.

Carr, M.J., Saginor, I., Alvarado, M.J.C., Bolge, L.L., Lindsay, F.N., Turrin, B., Feigenson, M.D., and Swisher, C.C., 2006, Element Fluxes from the Volcanic Front of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, in press.

Duffield, W., Heiken, G., Foley, D., and others, 1993, Oblique synoptic images, produced from digital data, display strong evidence of a "new" caldera in southwestern Guatemala, Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 55, no. 3-4, 217-224.

Galle, B., and Oppenheimer, C., A miniaturised ultraviolet spectrometer for remote sensing of SO (sub 2) fluxes; a new tool for volcano surveillance, 2003, Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 119, no. 1-4, 241-254.

Harris, A. J. L., Flynn, L. P., Matias, O., and Rose, W.I., 2002, The thermal stealth flows of Santiaguito Dome, Guatemala; implications for the cooling and emplacement of dacitic block-lava flows, Geological Society of America Bulletin, 114, no. 5, 533-546.

Harris, A. J. L., and Flynn, L. P., 2000, Real-time satellite monitoring of volcanic hot spots, Remote sensing of active volcanism, Geophysical Monograph, 116, 139-159.

Harris, A. J. L. and Flynn, L. P., 2004, The evolution of an active silicic lava flow field; an ETM+ perspective, in Volcanic observations from space; new results from the EOS Satellite instruments, Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 135, no. 1-2, 147-168.

Harris, A.J.L., Pilger, E., and Flynn, L.P., 2002, Web-based Hot Spot Monitoring using GOES: What it is and How it Works, Advances in Environ. Monitoring and Modelling, 1, no. 3, 5-36.

Harris, A.J.L., Pilger, E., Flynn, L.P., and Rowland, S.K., 2002, Real-time Hot Spot Monitoring using GOES: Case Studies from 1997-2000, Advances in Environ. Monitoring and Modelling, 1, no. 3, 134-151.

Harris, A. J. L., and Rose, W. I., 2003, Temporal trends in lava dome extrusion at Santiaguito 1922-2000, Bulletin of Volcanology, 65, no. 2-3, 77-89.

Horrocks, L. A., and Oppenheimer, C., 2003, Compositional variation in tropospheric volcanic gas plumes; evidence from ground-based remote sensing, in, Volcanic degassing, Geological Society Special Publications, 213, 349-369.

Mather, T. A., and Pyle, D. M., 2006, A reassessment of current volcanic emissions from the Central American arc with specific examples from Nicaragua, Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 149, no. 3-4, 297-311.

Oppenheimer, C., and Rothery, D. A., 1991, Infrared monitoring of volcanoes by satellite, in, Monitoring active volcanoes, Journal of the Geological Society of London, 48,563-569.

Oppenheimer, C. and Pyle, D. M., editors, 2003, Volcanic degassing: Geological Society Special Publications 213, London Geological Society of London.

Oppenheimer, C., 1993, Infrared surveillance of crater lakes using satellite data, Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 55, no. 1-2, 117-128.

Oppenheimer, C., 1996, Crater lake heat losses estimated by remote sensing, Geophysical Research Letters, 23, no. 14, 1793-1796.

Rodriguez, L. A., and Watson, I. M., 2004, SO (sub 2) emissions to the atmosphere from active volcanoes in Guatemala and El Salvador, 1999-2002, Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 138, no. 3-4, 325-344.

Sheets, P.D., 1994, Archaeology, volcanism, and remote sensing in the Arenal region, Costa Rica: University of Texas Press, Austin, TX.

Sofield, D., 2004, Eruptive history and volcanic hazards of Volcan San Salvador, in Natural hazards in El Salvador, Geological Society of America Special Paper 375, 147-158.

Wright, R., and Flynn, L.P., 2004, Space-based estimate of the volcanic heat flux into the atmosphere during 2001 and 2002, Geology, 32, no. 3, 189-192.

Wright, R., Flynn, L.P., Garbeil, H., Harris, A., and Pilger, E., 2002, Automated volcanic eruption detection using MODIS, Remote Sensing of the Environment, 82, 135-155.