Gravity changes and passive SO2 degassing at the Masaya caldera complex, Nicaragua

Williams-Jones, Glyn; Rymer, Hazel and Rothery, David A. (2003). Gravity changes and passive SO2 degassing at the Masaya caldera complex, Nicaragua. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 123(1-2) pp. 137–160.




An understanding of the mechanisms responsible for persistent volcanism can be acquired through the integration of geophysical and geochemical data sets. By interpreting data on micro-gravity, ground deformation and SO2 flux collected at Masaya Volcano since 1993, it is now clear that the characteristically cyclical nature of the activity is not driven by intrusion of additional magma into the system. Rather, it may be due in large part to the blocking and accumulation of gas by restrictions in the volcano substructure. The history of crater collapse and formation of caverns beneath the crater floor would greatly facilitate the trapping and storage of gas in a zone immediately beneath San Pedro and the other craters. Another mechanism that may explain the observed gravity and gas flux variations is the convective overturn of shallow, pre-existing, degassed, cooled, dense magma that is replaced periodically by lower density, hot, gas-rich magma from depth. Buoyant gas-rich magma rises from depth and is emplaced near the surface, resulting in the formation and fluctuation of a low-density gas-rich layer centred beneath Nindirí and Santiago craters. As this magma vigorously degasses, it must cool, increase in density and eventually sink. Five stages of activity have been identified at Masaya since 1853 and the most recent data suggest that the system may have been entering another period of reduced degassing in 2000. This type of analysis has important implications for hazard mitigation because periods of intense degassing are associated with poor agricultural yields and reduced quality of life. A better understanding of persistent cyclically active volcanoes will allow for more effective planning of urban development and agricultural land use.

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