Supporting the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory

An explosion at the Santiaguito dome at Santa Maria in Guatemala.

Now, we've been talking recently about funding volcano monitoring - specifically with the threat that KVERT in Russia will close down after today (June 30). Well, Jessica Ball over at Magma Cum Laude has another worthy volcano observatory that needs your help. The Santiaguito Volcano Observatory, run by the INSIVUMEH in Guatemala, is the main station to watch over the activity at Santa Maria and the (very) active Santiaguito domes near the Pacific coast of the country. However, this observatory is run an a shoestring budget if ever I heard it. As Jessica puts it:

The scientists and observers at Santiaguito (and at other volcanoes in Guatemala) don't have the equipment they need to easily and accurately monitor active volcanoes. It's not a matter of needing big pieces of high-tech instrumentation; the folks at the Observatory don't even have the basics that we all take for granted - such as digital cameras, radios, and GPSs. What's more, even though they have a seismic station collecting data about the Santiagutio domes, there's no way to receive or process the information at the Observatory, because they don't have the computers to do it.

Can you imagine trying to make sense out an active volcano without this sort of equipment? It is kind of like trying to diagnose what is wrong with your car while blindfolded and wearing ear muffs. However, this monitoring is vital considering how active Santiaguito is - and its capability to produce dangerous lahars and pyroclastic flows from dome collapse. There is something you can do to help - Dr. Jeff Vitter has set up the International Volcano Monitoring Fund to help in just these situations. He has specifically set up a fund to help the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory and volcano monitoring in Guatemala. Now, I'm not saying you have to donate, but even spreading the word to community groups or other volcanophile can help. If you have any specific questions about this, contact me at i-84cc6bc3cf2966742ba05c49f79ef53a-email.jpg or Jessica Ball (University at Buffalo) at magmacumlaude AT

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Ok. I did my donation, it's very simple, through pay pal.
I think we should all do the same. Better do it now then after it'is too late.
No fancy dinners this night...

By Renato I Silveira (not verified) on 30 Jun 2010 #permalink

I have noticed that your helicorder at Heklubyggð is showing tremors on a scale not seen since the E-bopping days. Your take on that?
My thinking is that it is totally unrelated to E since the tremor stations around E and Katla is rather calm and there are no significant quakes happening there either.

So, if there is not a storm on Iceland nor any truth to the rumour of a Motörhead/Björk support concert, what is happening? Is this some tremoring due to Hekla or?

Has anyone set up a system for donating on CPUs? Maybe money is the most efficient way to help, but it seems like a lot of university labs have extra computers just hanging out for recycling that could be refurbished and passed on.

How about a short list of small items that are most needed and could easily be donated from among the volcanophile community?

That is a reasonable step in the right direction.

Nick Varley's Colima monitoring project also deserves donation support through the IVM Fund.

Thank you for posting about this issue. I have been traveling to Guatemala for the past 8 years, working on building a new orphanage and school "down wind" from the Santa Maria/Santiaguito complex. The original land that was donated for the school was located outside the "danger zone" for pyroclastic flows, but on the border of the area affected by Lahars. We were able to make a land swap and move the school site to a better location. We also made sure that the roofs were designed to handle ash fall events. Still, In Guatemala, there is very little warning before an eruption occurs, and adequate warnings would be the best precautionary device we could hope for. I think donating equipment to the observatory would be a tremendous help, especially in a country where you can't turn around without coming face to face with a volcano.

Please note, I am not a scientist, but just someone who is very interested in Volcanoes. I had to study a lot of material to help advise on the school design and in the course I have come to respect these mountains, as well as marvel at their beauty.

As a side question, is anyone in your community familiar with Lake Atitlan in Guatemala? it is a huge Caldera Lake (11Miles long x 5miles wide) with depths in excess of 1,100 feet. There are two active and one dormant volcanoes along the SW margin of the lake. I have heard about a carbon dioxide eruption at a similar lake in Africa. Do any of you know if any studies are being done on Lake Atitlan concerning carbon dioxide buildup in the bottom of the lake? There is a tremendous population of Mayans living along the shoreline of this lake and a carbon dioxide eruption here would be terrible.

Thanks for your concern.
George Locke
Raleigh, NC, USA

By George Locke (not verified) on 30 Jun 2010 #permalink

George, the lake has 'the most stable low-CO2' conditions known. The proximity to volcanic gases isn't the issue.

It's phosphorus. According to this website, it's anthropogenic.…

Unfortunately, natural abundance of phosphatidic soils, from basalt erosion and mineral leaching in the area may complicate the 'phosphate balance picture', as an underlying contributor to lake eutrophication.

I'm going to hesitate a guess and suggest that hillside soil erosion from development in the basin is also a factor here.

I would turn my attention, if I were you, to the municipal sewage outfalls mentioned in the informative link above. Wwhile these folks are well-meaning in their advocation of PhosphoLock, you may want to seek out international groups who focus on water quality and public health issues in developing nations.

Low tech and inexpensive portable activated sludge treatment units would be a logical solution for outfall treatment, as these units provide biological degradation of surfactants. UT-Austin, I believe, has developed a unique design of these units; the technology is presently being tested by USDOD in the Middle East.

You may want to link up with other International Aide groups, to explore potential for setting up a natural Preserve on the lakeshore, to modulate urban development and tourism (probably a major source of revenue for the area) impacts to lake water quality.

@6 George Locke

Atitlan Lake overturn is briefly noted in this link (ie, the lake has fumeroles on the bottom, and it does overturn).…

And, searching around, I found this article about a big team going into the area to study lake quality and try to clean it up. Perhaps if you are in the area, you can ask them about lake overturn.…

By parclair NoCal USA (not verified) on 30 Jun 2010 #permalink

Thank you all for your responses. I knew there are pollution issues with the lake, given my experience in the rest of the Country. The typical sewage disposal method is to dump it in the nearest creek (The solution to pollution is dilution). The Volcanoes around that lake are some of the most majestic peaks I've ever seen. It is a shame to think that the lake could be dying due to pollution. Tourism is the main source of income for those folks. For our new school we are installing a small package plant.

Thank you all for taking your time with my question. I plan to next visit Guatemala in Late July/early August. I hope to get more photos of Santa Maria as well as Pacaya. Thank you for all y'all do!


By George Locke (not verified) on 30 Jun 2010 #permalink

Raving @7, thanks for the paper on activity at Taal. The technicalities are outwith my knowledge, but it gives a good picture of what is going on and where, or where activity is most likely to occur in any future eruption.

@Gordon (#11)

FYI in case you missed it -->

There is no need of an observatory for the santiagotu. Why???? Do you say. In fact, you need only to number the carbonized people who climb the dome, who film themselves laughing with behind them an explosion and whose frit bodys are send down. Good process, isn't it?

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