The Central America Volcanic Arc (CAVA) is a chain of hundreds of volcanic formations that extend from Guatemala to northern Panama, parallel to the Pacific coastline of the Central American Isthmus. These volcanic formations range from major stratovolcanoes to lava domes and cinder cones.
Central America Volcanic Arc
The Central America Volcanic Arc (CAVA), sometimes referred to as the Central Volcanic Range, is a chain of hundreds of volcanic formations that extend from Guatemala to northern Panama, parallel to the Pacific coastline of the Central American Isthmus. These volcanic formations range from major stratovolcanoes to lava domes and cinder cones.
Volcanic arcs are either oceanic arcs or continental arcs. Oceanic arcs result in the formation of volcanic island arcs whereas continental arcs lead to the formation of arc-shaped mountain belts.
The Central America Volcanic Arc, a mountain belt that has a length of approximately 1,500 km (930 mi), was formed over an active subduction zone along the western boundary of the Caribbean Plate, caused by plate tectonics.
In this case, the Cocos Plate is actively subducting beneath the Caribbean Plate as it pushes westward at a rate of about 22 mm (.86 in) per year. This subduction forms the volcanoes of Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and just past the border into northern Panama.
Simplified plate tectonics cross-section showing how Santa Maria Volcano is located above a subduction zone formed where the Cocos and Caribbean plates collide
The Central American Volcanic Arc consists of hundreds of volcanic formations, including stratovolcanoes, composite volcanos, calderas and lava domes. Several of the volcanoes along the arc are nearly permanently active. More than 200 eruptions took place in the past three centuries.
Sometimes they release gases, sometimes they blow out small ash clouds or emit lava flows. From time to time, the relatively gentle activity is interrupted by stronger, more destructive eruptions.
The large and densely populated capitals of Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica are all located near large volcanoes.
The Central America Volcanic Arc hosts more than 70 volcanoes that have been active during the Holocene (the present epoch), many of which are still active. Volcanoes that are currently active include:
Nicargua: Cerro Negro, San Cristóbal, Concepción
El Salvador: Chaparrastique or San Miguel, Ilamatepec or Santa Ana, Izalco
Guatemala: Santa Maria/Santiaguito, Pacaya, Fuego
Currently, the most active volcanoes in Central America include Santa María with its flank cone Santiaguito, Pacaya and Fuego in Guatemala, and Arenal in northwestern Costa Rica.
Map of the Central America Volcanic Arc