Bulletin of Volcanology

, 71:541 | Cite as

The pit-craters and pit-crater-filling lavas of Masaya volcano

  • Andrew J. L. Harris
Research Article


Lava flowing into a pit crater will become entrapped to form an inactive lava lake. At Masaya volcano (Nicaragua) pit filling lavas are exposed in the walls of Nindiri, Santiago and San Pedro pits. Mapping of these lavas shows that fill can involve emplacement of both ’a’a and pahoehoe, with single fill units ranging in thickness from 2 to 22 m. Thick units with columnar joints were emplaced as simple inactive lava lakes during high effusion rate episodes. Sequences of thinner units, which can form pit floor shields or compound lakes, were emplaced at lower effusion rates. Lava withdrawal caused unsupported sections of three 20-m-thick units to subside, resulting in unit flexure and faulting, and viscous peeling features reveal that subsidence occurred while at least one unit was still partially molten. Where withdrawal has not occurred, fill sequences are flat lying and symmetrically distributed around the feeder structures (cinder cones and dykes). The filled Nindiri pit holds 5 × 107 m3 of lava in a 215-m-thick sequence. Partial fill of Santiago pit with 1 × 107 m3 of lava has filled the pit with a 110-m-thick lava sequence, of which ∼50% has been consumed by formation of a secondary pit. Altogether, 6.4 × 107 m3 of lava was erupted into Nindiri and Santiago during 1525–1965, with 94% of this volume remaining pit-contained; the remainder forms a north flank lava flow field. Pit development and filling is a dynamic and ephemeral process, having short-lived effects on volcano morphology, where pits develop and fill over hours-to-centuries. However, pits play an important role in shaping an edifice, representing lava sinks and controlling whether lavas are trapped or able to spread onto the flanks.


Pit craters Lava lakes Lava units Masaya 



Field work was supported by NASA grant NAG5-10640. ETM+ data were purchased through NAG5-10640 and IKONOS was provided through NASA’s Science Data Purchase Program. Aerial photo’s are courtesy INETER (Nicaragua) and made available by Glyn Williams-Jones. This manuscript benefited greatly from the reviews of Ben van Wyk de Vries and Glyn Williams-Jones, the excellent editorial handling of Jocelyn McPhie, an informal review by Lucia Gurioli, and discussions with Steve Martel and Don Swanson.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.HIGP/SOESTUniversity of HawaiiHonoluluUSA

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