Central America Volcanic Arc

Central America Volcanic Arc

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 15:09

The Central America Volcanic Arc is a chain of volcanic formations that extend from Guatemala to Northern Panama, parallel to the Pacific coastline of the Central American Isthmus. They range from major stratovolcanoes to lava domes and cinder cones.

Central America Volcanic Arc

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.

The Central America Volcanic Arc, which 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.

Here, 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.

 

Simplified plate tectonics cross-section showing how Santa Maria Volcano is located above a subduction zone formed where the Cocos and Caribbean plates collide
Simplified plate tectonics cross-section showing how Santa Maria Volcano is located above a subduction zone formed where the Cocos and Caribbean plates collide

 

This subduction forms the volcanoes of Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and just past the border into northern Panama.

Several of the volcanoes along the Central America Volcanic 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 in the immediate vicinity of large volcanoes.

The Central America Volcanic Arc hosts more than 70 volcanoes which have been active during the Holocene (the present epoch), many of which are currently active.

Volcanoes along the Central America Volcanic Arc that are currently active include:

  • Costa Rica: Arenal, Turrialba, Irazú, Poás, Rincon de la Vieja

  • 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
Map of the Central America Volcanic Arc