Rincón de la Vieja volcano, Guanacaste province, Costa Rica: Geology of the southwestern flank and hazards implications

Kirt A. Kempter, Shawn G. Benner, Stanley Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Acid rain and ongoing eruptive activity at Rincón de la Vieja volcano in northwestern Costa Rica have created a triangular, deeply eroded "dead zone" west-southwest of the Active Crater. The barren, steep-walled canyons in this area expose one of the best internal stratigraphic profiles of any active or dormant volcano in Costa Rica. Geologic mapping along the southwestern flank of the volcano reveals over 300 m of prehistoric volcanic stratigraphy, dominated by tephra deposits and two-pyroxene andesite lavas. Dense tropical forests and poor access preclude mapping elsewhere on the volcano. In the "dead zone" four stratigraphic groups are distinguished by their relative proportions of lava and tephra. In general, early volcanism was dominated by voluminous lava emissions, with explosive plinian eruptions becoming increasingly more dominant with time. Numerous phreatic eruptions have occurred in historic times, all emanating from the Active Crater. The stratigraphic sequence is capped by the Río Blanco tephra deposit, erupted at approximately 3500 yr B.P. Approximately 0.25 km3 (0.1 km3 DRE) of tephra was deposited in a highly asymmetrical dispersal pattern west-southwest of the source vent, indicating strong prevailing winds from the east and east-northeast at the time of the eruption. Grain-size studies of the deposit reveal that the eruption was subplinian, attaining an estimated column height of 16 km. A qualitative hazards assessment at Rincón de la Vieja indicates that future eruptions are likely to be explosive in style, with the zone of greatest hazard extending several kilometers north from the Active Crater.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-127
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Issue number2-4
StatePublished - May 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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