Bulletin Volcanologique

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 416–437 | Cite as

Volume, energy and cyclicity of eruptions of Arenal volcano, Costa Rica

  • W. G. Melson
  • R. Saenz


The 1968–73 (and continuing) eruption of Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica, a small 1633 m strato-volcano with long periods of repose, defines an eruptive cycle which is typical of Arenal’s pre-historic eruptions. An intense, short explosive phase (July 29–31, 1968) grades into an effusive phase, and is followed by a block lava flow. The eruptive rocks become increasingly less differentiated with time in a given cycle, ranging from andesite to basaltic andesite. Nuées ardentes are a characteristic of the initial explosions, and are caused by fall-back ejecta on slopes around the main crater — an explosion crater in the 1968 eruption — which coalesce into hot avalanches and descend major drainage channels. Total volume of pyroclastic flows was small, about 1.8 ± 0.5 × 10n m3, in the July 29–31 explosions, and are block and ash flows, with much accidental material. Overpressures, ranging up to perhaps 5 kilobars just prior to major explosions, were estimated from velocities of large ejected blocks, which had velocities of up to 600 m/sec.

Total kinetic energy and volume of ejecta of all explosions are an estimated 3 × 1022 ergs and 0.03 km3, respectively. The block lava flow, emitted from Sept., 1968 to 1973 (and continuing) has a volume greater than 0.06 km3, and covers 2.7 km2 at thicknesses ranging from 15 to over 100 m. The total volumes of the explosive and effusive phases for the 1968–73 eruption are about 0.05 km3 and 0.06 km3, respectively.

The last eruption of Arenal occurred about 1500 AD. based on radiocarbon dating and archaeological means, and was about twice as voluminous as the current one (0.17 km3 versus 0.09 km3). The total thermal energies for this pre-historic eruption and the current one are 8 × 1023 and 18 × 1023, respectively. The total volume of Arenal’s cone is about 6 km3 from 1633 m (summit) to 500 m, and, estimates of age based on the average rate of cone growth from these two eruptions, suggest an age between 20,000 to 200,000 years.


Tephra Lava Flow Explosive Phase Explosion Crater Total Thermal Energy 
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Copyright information

© Stabilimento Tipografico Francesco Gianni & Figli 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. G. Melson
    • 1
  • R. Saenz
    • 2
  1. 1.Smithsonian InstitutionWashington, D.C.
  2. 2.Ministerio de Industria y ComercioSan JoséCosta Rica

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