Recent geologic history of lake Atitlán, a caldera lake in western Guatemala

Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
By: , and 



Lake Atitlán, a caldera lake in western Guatemala, was investigated for evidence of recent volcanic and tectonic activity. No vents, faults, or folds are apparent on high-resolution seismic reflection profiles of lake sediment, representing at least 17,500 years and probably more than 35,000 years of deposition. Three post-caldera stratovolcanoes (San Pedro, Tolimán, and Atitlán) have grown in southern parts of the caldera and two deltas have grown from the north shore of the lake. Elsewhere, the caldera is occupied by Lake Atitlán, which is more than 300 m deep and has a relatively flat floor. Refraction profiles suggest that the original floor of the caldera lies ca. 300 m below the current lake floor, but prodigious amounts of methane gas in the lake sediment attenuated seismic signals and prevented any detailed view of the original caldera floor or faults along which the floor is presumed to have collapsed.

Piston cores from deep basins of Lake Atitlán record ca. 2,000 years of unusually rapid sedimentation (ca. 0.5 cm/yr). Only one thin silicic ash layer was penetrated, and it is probably from a distant source. Cores contain evidence of Mayan disturbance of the environment around the lake and, to a lesser degree, of the lake itself; they might also record episodes of increased thermal activity, each lasting several decades.

Heat-flow measurements inside and just outside the caldera are high (290 and 230 mW m−2), suggesting hydrothermal convection and a shallow heat source. High heat flow, a geological record of post-caldera silicic eruptions, and unexplained fluctuations of lake level (episodic tumescence ofthe lake floor?) suggest that magma remains beneath Lake Atitlán and that future eruptions are possible.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Recent geologic history of lake Atitlán, a caldera lake in western Guatemala
Series title Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
DOI 10.1016/0377-0273(87)90055-2
Volume 33
Issue 1-3
Year Published 1987
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Description 27 p.
First page 81
Last page 107
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N