Volcán de Colima (3,839-m) is an active andesitic stratovolcano in the Mexican state of Colima. Considered by many volcanologists to be the most active volcano in North America, it is known for producing explosive eruptions on a regular basis. It is located in the far western end of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt.
It is part of a larger north-south trending volcanic complex that contains the older, extinct stratovolcano known as Nevado de Colima just five kilometers to the north. Cinder cones are spread throughout the farmland below. The closest city is Ciudad Guzmán, 15 kilometers to the northeast. The city of Colima is located some 30 kilometers to the south.
I witnessed more than my fair share of phenomenal volcanic events while working for the University of Colima’s Center for Exchange and Research in Volcanology. Such events were able to be captured (and had to be captured, according to my job description) using a variety of techniques, including telephoto-lens DSLR photography.
One of the finest locations for observing and monitoring the activity of the volcano is La Mesa, an avocado farm located some 7-km southwest of the crater. This observation point offers a full, unobstructed view of the mountain. I happened to be stationed at La Mesa, camped in my tent, to collect data on the dates of December 3-4, 2014.
Just before sunrise, I was awoken by two loud, successive blasts from the volcano. In the three hours that followed, I watched in awe as Volcán de Colima exhaled a total of nine Vulcanian-style* eruptions. Following these explosions, the mountain rallied off a flurry of rockfalls. Here is a time-lapse video that I composed from the corresponding series of continuous photographs.
*A Vulcanian–style eruption is a violent explosion of dense, ash-laden gas that rises high above the crater. The term was first coined by Giuseppe Mercalli, who described the events as “Explosions like cannon-fire at irregular intervals.”
Volcán de Colima is known for this type of activity. It is thought that there occurs one catastrophic Plinian-style (several-km high ash column) eruption about every 100 years. The last time it experienced one of these explosions was 101 years ago, in 1913. Certainly the activity has been increasing since 2012 with the growth of the current lava dome. Growth of the dome results in advancements of the blocky andesitic lava flow down the mountain, manifested as rockfalls. In the daytime, these rockfalls send huge clouds of ash to the sky; in the nighttime, the fresh, partially-molten rocks send incandescent avalanches streaking down the flanks of the volcano.
Rockfall activity (due to growth of the summit dome) is displayed well in the time-lapse video below. Note the occurrence of back-to-back Vulcanian explosions at the 1:52 mark.
The nighttime activity of Volcán de Colima is truly remarkable. The andesitic dome effuses fresh lava from the summit crater, sending red-hot rocks cascading down the flanks. Here is a time-lapse video that I compiled from a night of observation at La Mesa. In the center of the view (the SW side of the mountain), a new lava lobe can be seen growing directly atop an existing, still active lava flow. The ‘grinding’ of these two lava lobes together produces awe-inspiring rockfalls with beautiful incandescence.