Lahar Hazards at Casita and San Cristóbal Volcanoes, Nicaragua

Open-File Report 2001-468

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Casita and San Cristóbal volcanoes are part of a volcano complex situated at the eastern end of the Cordillera de los Maribios. Other centers of volcanism in the complex include El Chonco, Cerro Moyotepe, and La Pelona. At 1745 m, San Cristóbal is the highest and only historically active volcano of the complex. The volcano’s crater is 500 to 600 m across and elongate east to west; its western rim is more than 100 m higher than its eastern rim. The conical volcano is both steep and symmetrical. El Chonco, which lies west of San Cristóbal, is crudely conical but has been deeply dissected by streams. Cerro Moyotepe to the northeast of San Cristóbal is even more deeply incised by erosion than El Chonco, and its crater is breached by erosion. Casita volcano, about 5 km east of San Cristóbal volcano, comprises a broad ridge like form, elongate along an eastwest axis, that is deeply dissected. Nested along the ridge are two craters. The younger one, La Ollada crater, truncates an older smaller crater to the east near Casita’s summit (1430 m). La Ollada crater is about 1 km across and 100 m deep. Numerous small fumarole fields occur near the summit of Casita and on nearby slopes outside of the craters. Casita volcano overlaps the 3-km-wide crater of La Pelona to the east. Stream erosion has deeply incised the slopes of La Pelona, and it is likely the oldest center of the Casita-San Cristóbal volcano complex. In late October and early November 1998, torrential rains of Hurricane Mitch caused numerous slope failures in Central America. The most catastrophic occurred at Casita volcano, on October 30, 1998. At Casita, five days of heavy rain triggered a 1.6-million-cubic-meter rock and debris avalanche that generated an 2- to 4- million-cubic-meter debris flow that swept down the steep slopes of the volcano. The debris flow spread out across the volcano’s apron, destroyed two towns, and killed more than 2500 people. In prehistoric time, Casita erupted explosively to form ash-fall deposits (tephra), debris avalanches, lava flows, and hot flowing mixtures of ash and rock (called pyroclastic flows). The chronology of activity at Casita is rather poorly known. Its last documented eruption occurred 8300 years ago, and included a pyroclastic flow. Tephra deposits exposed in the east crater suggest the possibility of subsequent eruptions. Work prior to Hurricane Mitch suggested that a part of the volcano’s apron that included the area inundated during the 1998 event south of Casita was a lahar pathway. Erosion during Hurricane Mitch revealed that at least three large lahars descended this pathway to distances of up to 10 km. This report describes the hazards of landslides and lahars in general, and discusses potential hazards from future landslides and lahars at San Cristóbal and Casita volcanoes in particular. The report also shows, in the accompanying lahar hazard-zonation maps, which areas are likely to be at risk from future landslides and lahars at Casita and San Cristóbal.

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USGS Numbered Series
Lahar Hazards at Casita and San Cristóbal Volcanoes, Nicaragua
Series title:
Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Report: iv, 18 p.; Plate 1: 35.18 inches x 30.33 inches, Plate 2: 34.13 inches x 32.69 inches, Plate 3: 34.29 inches x 32.59 inches
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