Articles | Volume 4, issue 2
Research article
11 Jul 2013
Research article |  | 11 Jul 2013

Quantification of magma ascent rate through rockfall monitoring at the growing/collapsing lava dome of Volcán de Colima, Mexico

S. B. Mueller, N. R. Varley, U. Kueppers, P. Lesage, G. Á. Reyes Davila, and D. B. Dingwell

Abstract. The most recent eruptive phase of Volcán de Colima, Mexico, started in 1998 and was characterized by dome growth with a variable effusion rate, interrupted intermittently by explosive eruptions. Between November 2009 and June 2011, activity at the dome was mostly limited to a lobe on the western side where it had previously started overflowing the crater rim, leading to the generation of rockfall events. As a consequence of this, no significant increase in dome volume was perceivable and the rate of magma ascent, a crucial parameter for volcano monitoring and hazard assessment could no longer be quantified via measurements of the dome's dimensions. Here, we present alternative approaches to quantify the magma ascent rate. We estimate the volume of individual rockfalls through the detailed analysis of sets of photographs (before and after individual rockfall events). The relationship between volume and infrared images of the freshly exposed dome surface and the seismic signals related to the rockfall events were then investigated. Larger rockfall events exhibited a correlation between its previously estimated volume and the surface temperature of the freshly exposed dome surface, as well as the mean temperature of rockfall mass distributed over the slope. We showed that for larger events, the volume of the rockfall correlates with the maximum temperature of the newly exposed lava dome as well as a proxy for seismic energy. It was therefore possible to calibrate the seismic signals using the volumes estimated from photographs and the count of rockfalls over a certain period was used to estimate the magma extrusion flux for the period investigated. Over the course of the measurement period, significant changes were observed in number of rockfalls, rockfall volume and hence averaged extrusion rate. The extrusion rate was not constant: it increased from 0.008 ± 0.003 to 0.02 ± 0.007 m3 s−1 during 2010 and dropped down to 0.008 ± 0.003 m3 s−1 again in March 2011. In June 2011, magma extrusion had come to a halt. The methodology presented represents a reliable tool to constrain the growth rate of domes that are repeatedly affected by partial collapses. There is a good correlation between thermal and seismic energies and rockfall volume. Thus it is possible to calibrate the seismic records associated with the rockfalls (a continuous monitoring tool) to improve volcano monitoring at volcanoes with active dome growth.