View of typical Santiaguito explosion as seen from the summit of Santa Maria.
View of typical Santiaguito explosion as seen from the summit of Santa Maria. Credit: Jeffrey Johnson

The Santiaguito volcanic dome complex in Guatemala is the ideal site for studying volcanic activity, with its regular explosions, active lava and pyroclastic flows, and safe vantage points for deploying in situ and line-of-sight instrumentation. The dome complex formed at the base of the Santa Maria volcano after it erupted in 1902. The domes began erupting in 1922 and have been continuously active for more than 90 years.

In January 2016, scientists studying volcanoes gathered in the nearby city of Quetzaltenango to share research and conduct fieldwork in the first of a series of scientific and educational workshops on volcanoes. Sixty participants from more than 10 countries attended the workshop.

Fifteen principal scientists launched experiments before and during the conference: seismic, geodetic, and infrasound deployment; multispectral gas and thermal sensing; unmanned aerial vehicle reconnaissance; photogrammetry; and petrologic and rheologic sampling. Participants learned about volcano-monitoring technologies during visits to installation sites and in breakout groups. Data collected during the workshops were analyzed and shared with all conference goers. This data resource is also being offered freely to individuals from the broader volcano community.

More than 50 scientists and workshop participants spent the night on the summit of the Santa Maria volcano.

More than 50 scientists and workshop participants climbed to and spent the night (in shifts) on the summit of neighboring Santa Maria volcano. An embedded journalist joined the scientists and reported on the experience. The excursion, which involved 1200 meters of vertical climbing, required the use of porters and local guides, and it required the construction of a tent city capable of hosting 25 people at the summit. Despite challenging conditions, the field excursion was a highlight for many participants.

The 3770-meter-tall Santa Maria provides an unparalleled overlook of the Santiaguito dome complex. It provides a bird’s-eye view at a safe 2700-meter distance of the explosions that occur approximately every 2 hours, 1200 meters below.

Participants also visited the southern slopes of Santiaguito, where lava and pyroclastic flows and lahar deposition threaten farms and plantations. Guatemalan workshop organizers from the Guatemalan National Institute of Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology, and Hydrology (INSIVUMEH) offered their monitoring perspectives during a public forum in Quetzaltenango. They explained the challenges faced by agrarian populations exposed to acute volcanic risks.

Workshop organizers explained the challenges faced by agrarian populations exposed to acute volcanic risks.

Those attending agreed that the style of the conference was worth recreating for a variety of reasons. Participants were able to learn through hands-on study, and they collected valuable geophysical data during the meeting. The meeting also brought attention to a hazardous and relatively little studied volcanic system. Most of the workshop attendees had never visited the region, and their exposure to both the dome complex and Guatemala has already seeded future collaboration.

The first Workshops on Volcanoes was supported through funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Division of Earth Sciences. Another iteration of the Workshops on Volcanoes model is already anticipated in 2 years.

—Jeffrey B. Johnson, Department of Geosciences, Boise State University, Boise, Idaho; email:; Benjamin Andrews, Department of Mineral Sciences, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D. C.; and Rudiger Escobar-Wolf, Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, Michigan Technological University, Houghton

Citation: Johnson, J. B., B. Andrews, and R. Escobar-Wolf (2016), Visiting the volcano, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO051467. Published on 2 May 2016.

Text © 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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