22 February 2010

Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala

Posted by Callan Bentley

Today, some photographs from Guatemala. I know one of my geoblogopeers is down in Guatemala doing research, so I’ll be interested to hear her take on these photos. These photos all come to us courtesy of my friend Courtney, who is a librarian at M.I.T., and a fellow M.S.-graduate of the University of Maryland geology department. She shared these images with me about a year ago, and I intended to post them on NOVA Geoblog, but never got around to it. Well, the wait is over… it is time to feast your eyes on some lava! The full set of images is here.

Pacaya Volcano is about 50 miles south of Antigua. It is one of about 35 volcanoes in the country — and one of four active volcanoes. Courtney and her friends four-wheeled it part way up to save a couple hours of hiking time. The trip door to door from Antigua was seven hours or so. They drove to about 1850′ elevation (564 m) and hiked the rest. Pacaya is 2,552′ high (778 m), but they didn’t go all the way to the top, just high enough to get up close and personal with some lava.

Here they are hiking up across relatively fresh lava flows:

“Lava stairs” that the group used to hike up. Courtney says, “This was live lava about two weeks prior to this picture. When the guide told me how recent it was, I started to get a little panicked. I put my hand down on the ‘stairs’ and it was very warm to the touch. Yikes.”

The group approaches the incandescent lava river (seen here as a faintly orange band running from upper left to lower right):

Approaching the lava river itself:

Wow. I’m struck by the ‘natural levees’ that form on either side of the liquid flow. The overall morphology calls to mind the neural tube of an embryo…

Here’s an unsettling sight to see on the “trail.” Courtney reports very hot feet on this hike, so I’m really not sure whether this is safe or foolhardy.

In these next two images, watch a big chunk of solidified basalt (shaped like an anvil, dark in the first picture, rolled over to appear orange in the second picture) ride the current downstream, like a log floating down a river:

The hikers, evidently happy with their experience. You can see the lava river in the distance as an orange stripe on the side of the volcano:

I’d like to thank Courtney for sharing these photos with us. What do you think? Was this safe? Was it awesome regardless?