An improved age framework for late Quaternary silicic eruptions in northern Central America
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Five new stepwise-heating 40Ar/39Ar ages and one new high-sensitivity 14C date of ash-fall and ash-flow deposits from late Quaternary silicic volcanoes in northern Central America document the eruption rates and frequencies of five major rhyodacite and rhyolite calderas (Atitlán, Amatitlán, Ayarza, Coatepeque, and Ilopango) located north of the basalt, andesite, and dacite stratovolcanoes of the Central American volcanic front. These deposits form extensive time-stratigraphic horizons that intercalate regionally, and knowledge of dates and stratigraphy provides a valuable framework for age determinations of more localized volcanic and nonvolcanic events. The new data, especially when integrated with previous stratigraphic and dating work, show that all five calderas erupted several times in the past 200 ka and, despite a lack of historic activity, should be considered as active centers that could produce highly explosive eruptions again. Because of their locations near the highly vulnerable economic hearts of Guatemala and El Salvador, the risks of eruptions from these calderas should be carefully considered along with risks of major earthquakes and volcanic front volcanoes, which are much more frequent but inflict less severe and extensive damage. This investigation also includes some examples of dating efforts that failed to produce reasonable results.
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