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Volcanos of Central America

Volcan Santa Maria de Santiaguito, Guatemala Dec. 2007

M. Rietze, R. Roscoe, Th. Boeckel

in deutsch

Hearing about the low activity phase of the  volcano Santeaguito the weeks before we started our tour in Quetzaltenango to the the main cone the Sante Maria (elevation 3771m osl) with mixed emotions. Due to our little time budged the big question was, what will expect us during this one night staytime from the 26th to the 27th. of Dezember 2007?

tb   tb

mr  tb

Owing to the Christmas festivities and parties the first what our guide Huglio expected was a nice siesta sleep after reaching the summit. The first what us ecpected was an endless see of clouds. Somewere down, there must be the Santiaguito. By rumbling noticeable somtimes a meager cloud appeared and revealed the approximate position. Uahh, nothing to see,- let's hope.


As much as we hoped to the cloud curtain seemed not to get clear at all, instead a zodiacal light* in an intensive and seldom brightness was offered to us. This space light reached nearly up to the zenith still two hours after sunset.


Santiaguito is a lava dome on the flank of Santa Maria, which has been continuously active since 1922. On the Google earth image you can see our positions and viewpoint. (More Infos soon)

mr  mr  tb

After the curtain opened diffidently at midnight, the fiery show began. On the plateau which is situated on a elevation of apprx. 2600m the first dim red and the first eruption details could be observed. Now the volcano started an episode of events every half an hour while the eruptions took place more intensive. Althought it took more than three hours to get the volcano photographed with the first glowing ejectas.

mrmr tb

On the upper photos you can see an activity about three minutes. At first you can hear the volcano with a rumbling sound which is increasing steady. Then the first glowing material appears on the may 150 m platform in diameter. Now the sound was changing completely. A loud howling and whisteling, mixed with the sound of a broken aircraft turbine which was going up and down with its engine speed in comparision.


This strange sound I never heard before at a volcano and may it is caused by the differend formed vents in the plateau giving the variable pitching like organ pipes. (I hope Martin has a good sound recordings, which are coming soon).

tb    mr   tb

On the next photos you can see more eruption forms while the weather cleared up completely. This photos were exposed more than 40 seconds. The ash columns raised straight up to an altitude of may 4500m - 5000m.

tb  mr  tb

Caused by the nearly full moon the exposures are archiving a nearly under water touch


Packed in our sleeping bags, it was the only solution to defeat the strong coldness during our photographing. In this altitude it is advisable to protect you with warm utilities against the wind and the low temperatures going less minus.

tb     mr


The first morning light let now the domes appears in a full view, and with a complete change of the eruption behavior it was possible to take this photos. Sitting in the sleeping back the objective poker began. Should I take the wide angle or the tele lens? Just one minute before this eruption I luckily mounted the telelens to get the vents with some more details.

tb  mr  tb

Mentionable was, that a new episode of events started with this eruption. Almost loudless in a nearly 45 minute rhythm, the whole plain seems to get under pressure while the tuffy material was uprising in a ring. 


Within two minutes activity one pipe after the other was activated, until the whole summit dissapered under the downgoing tuff  fall out.





Overview and a tornado at the plateau

This behavior of activity was observed during the whole forenoon, while standing after every burst in a strong ash rain. More big ash clouds could be noticed by us during the next days from more far distances. Maybe this was the start for a new stronger activity phase of the volcan Santeaguito.


People of Quezaltnango

* Zodiacal light. Illuminated space dust which is concentrated in the ecliptic layer of our solar system. Every body or planet belonging to our system leaves a little track of material (dirt) while orbiting around the sun. In equatorial areas this light pyramid is standing nearly vertical.

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©2008 photos and text by Thorsten Boeckel (tb), ©  2008 photos by Martin Rietze (mr)

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