Explosive activity at Volcán de Colima, México - Extrusion rates and eruption mechanisms

Lead Research Organisation: University of Plymouth
Department Name: Sch of Geog Earth & Environ Sciences


In January 2013 volcanic activity at the 'frequently active' Volcan de Colima, Mexico resumed in the form of Vulcanian explosions. Such Vulcanian explosions generate hazardous products such as tephra fallout and pyroclastic density currents and as such potentially pose a considerable risk to the population that live around the volcano.

This research aims to take this urgent opportunity to study the tephra fallout of these explosions, which will not be preserved otherwise. We will estimate the volume of material being erupted and determine the sulphur dioxide being emitted both before and after explosions. The aim is to understand the driving mechanism for the Vulcanian explosions. Several different methods will be used to study the summit of the volcano and in particular the dimensions of changes, to enable estimation of the rate of any lava extrusion. These methods include over flights of the volcano, allowing photographs to be taken, which will allow estimates of the sizes of lava domes /and or flows to be estimated. In addition, will also use standard optical and radar satellite imagery, which is able to see through cloud cover, to document any changes that have occurred in the summit and the upper flanks.

Following initial fieldwork we will characterise the nature of the tephra generated by the activity, its morphology, petrology and chemistry. These studies will provide the basis for understanding the driving mechanism behind this activity. For example is it related to a new pulse of magma and is the gas content of the magma similar to that erupted in previously and how does the geochemistry of the lava compare to previous episodes of activity.

Planned Impact

This research will benefit academics working in volcanic and magmatic processes and in volcanic hazards globally. There are many other regions and volcanoes of the world that show similar styles of activity to Colima Volcano.

There is also a potential societal impact of this research. The findings of this work may make inferences about the size and frequency of future volcanic activity at Colima volcano and thus be useful to local authorities for decision making for evacuation of areas close to the volcano. The impact of volcanic activity on society is therefore important.


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Cassidy M (2015) Rapid and slow: Varying magma ascent rates as a mechanism for Vulcanian explosions in Earth and Planetary Science Letters