Atitlán

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  • Country
  • Volcanic Region
  • Primary Volcano Type
  • Last Known Eruption
  • 14.583°N
  • 91.186°W

  • 3535 m
    11595 ft

  • 342060
  • Latitude
  • Longitude

  • Summit
    Elevation

  • Volcano
    Number

The Global Volcanism Program has no activity reports for Atitlán.

The Global Volcanism Program has no Weekly Reports available for Atitlán.

The Global Volcanism Program has no Bulletin Reports available for Atitlán.

Volcán Atitlán is one of several prominent conical stratovolcanoes in the Guatemalan highlands. Along with its twin volcano Tolimán to the north, it forms a dramatic backdrop to Lake Atitlán, one of the scenic highlights of the country. The 3535-m-high summit directly overlies the inferred margin of the Pleistocene Atitlán III caldera and is the highest of three large post-caldera stratovolcanoes constructed near the southern caldera rim. The volcano consequently post-dates the eruption of the voluminous, roughly 85,000-year-old rhyolitic Los Chocoyos tephra associated with formation of the Atitlán III caldera. The historically active andesitic Volcán Atitlán is younger than Tolimán, although their earlier activity overlapped. In contrast to Tolimán, Atitlán displays a thick pyroclastic cover. The northern side of the volcano is wooded to near the summit, whereas the upper 1000 m of the southern slopes are unvegetated. Predominantly explosive eruptions have been recorded from Volcán Atitlán since the 15th century.

Summary of Holocene eruption dates and Volcanic Explosivity Indices (VEI).

Start Date Stop Date Eruption Certainty VEI Evidence Activity Area or Unit
[ 1856 ] [ Unknown ] Uncertain 2  
1853 May 3 Unknown Confirmed 3 Historical Observations
[ 1852 ] [ Unknown ] Uncertain 2  
1843 Jul Unknown Confirmed 2 Historical Observations
1837 Jun Unknown Confirmed 2 Historical Observations
1833 Unknown Confirmed 2 Historical Observations
1827 Sep 1 1828 Jan (?) Confirmed 3 Historical Observations
1827 Mar 27 Unknown Confirmed 2 Historical Observations
1826 Nov Unknown Confirmed 2 Historical Observations
1717 Aug 29 1721 Confirmed   Unknown Volcano Uncertain
1663 Unknown Confirmed 2 Historical Observations
1579 (?) 1581 Dec 31 ± 30 days Confirmed 2 Historical Observations
1505 (?) Unknown Confirmed 3 Historical Observations
1469 Unknown Confirmed 3 Historical Observations
1020 BCE ± 150 years Unknown Confirmed   Radiocarbon (uncorrected)

This compilation of synonyms and subsidiary features may not be comprehensive. Features are organized into four major categories: Cones, Craters, Domes, and Thermal Features. Synonyms of features appear indented below the primary name. In some cases additional feature type, elevation, or location details are provided.



Synonyms
Suchitepequez | Zapotitlán | Suchiltepequez | Patulul
Conical Volcán Atitlán rises 3500 m above the flat-lying Pacific coastal plain of Guatemala. Atitlán's twin volcano to the north, Tolimán, forms the shoulder to the right of the summit. The volcanic highlands of Guatemala are seen here from the SE with Volcán Santo Tomás (Pecul) on the far left horizon, 35 km to the NW of Atitlán volcano.

Photo by Lee Siebert, 1988 (Smithsonian Institution).
The resort town of Panajachel (right-center) occupies a delta of the river of the same name that flows into Lake Atitlán. The northern caldera rises up to 1100 m above the lake. Rapid sedimentation following formation of the caldera about 84,000 years ago has filled in about half of the roughly 600 m depth of the caldera below the lake surface. The level of the lake has fluctuated more than 10 m over periods of several decades, and titles exist to land now submerged hundreds of meters from the current shoreline. High heat flow is present in the lake.

Photo by Lee Siebert, 1988 (Smithsonian Institution).
The paired Atitlán-Tolimán volcanoes rise above Lake Atitlán in this view from the town of Solola north of the lake. Atitlán, Tolimán's higher twin volcano, forms the skyline immediately behind and to the left of Tolimán. Cerro de Oro, a flank lava dome, seen here immediately above the lakeshore left of the summit, erupted within the past few thousand years. The two volcanoes were constructed over the buried rims of two Miocene-Pleistocene Atitlán calderas.

Photo by Lee Siebert, 1988 (Smithsonian Institution).
Thick units of the 84,000-year-old Los Chocoyos Ash are exposed south of Guatemala City, more than 100 km from its source at Atitlán caldera. Three flow units are visible here. The pinkish layer at the center of the outcrop is the oxidized top of the pyroclastic-flow deposit and is one cooling unit. The bottom two layers are the top and bottom halves of the thick white layer of the pyroclastic-flow deposit. The two fall deposits above the Los Chocoyos Ash are unit E from Amatitlán caldera and the younger unit C from Agua volcano.

Photo by Bill Rose, 1978 (Michigan Technological University).
A panoramic view to the west across Lake Atitlán shows the flanks of Tolimán volcano extending to the lakeshore on the left, San Pedro volcano at the SW end of the lake, and the two sharp-topped peaks of Santo Tomás (left) and Santa María (right) on the center horizon. Tajumulco volcano appears in the distance at the upper right. Scenic Lake Atitlán occupies the northern half of the youngest Atitlán caldera, which formed during the eruption of the Los Chocoyos Ash about 84,000 years ago.

Photo by Bill Rose, 1972 (Michigan Technological University).
Three major post-caldera stratovolcanoes fill the southern half of Atitlán caldera in this view from the NE. Atitlán caldera was formed during three major explosive eruptions from the Miocene to late Pleistocene. Conical Atitlán volcano (upper left) was constructed above the southern rim of the youngest caldera, Atitlán III, whose low southern rim is visible on the center horizon beyond narrow Santiago bay. Tolimán (right of Atitlán) and San Pedro (upper right) overlie the rim of Atitlán II. The buried rim of Atitlán I lies below the shoreline of Tolimán.

Photo by Bill Rose, 1980 (Michigan Technological University).
The 84,000-year-old Los Chocoyos Ash from Atitlán caldera is exposed in a quarry near San Juan Ostuncalco, west of Quetzaltenango. The white layer at the base is layer H, a plinian pumice fall unit. The rhyolitic H pumice fall is the largest currently known plinian fall deposit in Central America. Despite its relative thinness, it is preserved over the entire Guatemalan highlands. The thicker overlying unit is the pyroclastic-flow member of the Los Chocoyos. This massive unwelded pyroclastic-flow deposit is up to 200 m thick.

Photo by Bill Rose, 1974 (Michigan Technological University).
The unvegetated summit of Atitlán volcano is cut by two shallow craters, the largest of which is breached to the south. San Pedro volcano rises across Santiago bay to the right, and in the distance (left-to-right) are the peaks of Santo Tomás, Santa María, and Tajumulco. Atitlán is the highest and the only one of the three post-caldera cones of Atitlán caldera to have had eruptions during historical time.

Photo by Bill Rose, 1980 (Michigan Technological University).
Volcán Tolimán (center) towers above the south shore of scenic Lake Atitlán. Tolimán and its conical twin volcano Atitlán (upper left) were constructed within the Pleistocene Atitlán III caldera, near its inferred southern margin. In contrast to the tephra-covered surface of Volcán Atitlán, the surface of Tolimán is draped by prominent thick lava flows. The recent history of Tolimán is dominated by effusive eruptions from flank vents. The resulting lava flows extend into the lake and produce a highly irregular shoreline.

Photo by Bill Rose, 1972 (Michigan Technological University).
Conical Volcán Atitlán directly overlies the inferred margin of the Pleistocene Atitlán III caldera, whose northern rim lies across Lake Atitlán. Atitlán volcano forms a paired volcano with Tolimán to its north (seen just to the right of Atitlán's summit). The historically active Atitlán is younger than Tolimán, although their earlier activity overlapped. In contrast to Tolimán, Atitlán displays a thick pyroclastic cover, reflecting its predominantly explosive eruptions that have been recorded since the 15th century.

Photo by Bill Rose, 1980 (Michigan Technological University).
Scenic Lake Atitlán fills the northern half of the Atitlán III caldera, which formed about 84,000 years ago following eruption of the Los Chocoyos Ash. The 18 x 12 km caldera lake is seen here from the south, with the slopes of the post-caldera Tolimán stratovolcano in the foreground. The relatively flat lake floor is 300 m below the water surface, and caldera walls rise to nearly 900 m above the lake. Bathymetric surveys revealed no evidence for resurgent doming or post-caldera vents beneath the lake surface.

Photo by Bill Rose, 1980 (Michigan Technological University).
A geologist photographs an outcrop of the 84,000-year-old Los Chocoyos Ash near Patzún, about 10 km east of Lake Atitlán. Note the charred log above the photographer. This pyroclastic-flow member of the Los Chocoyos is up to 200 m thick and is exposed over an area of about 2000 sq km. Individual flow units of the voluminous 275 cu km ignimbrite are sometimes more than 100 m thick. The upper part of the deposit is characteristically salmon-pink in color as a result of oxidation of the cooling flow.

Photo by Bill Rose, 1980 (Michigan Technological University).
Youthful lobate lava flows from Tolimán volcano form an irregular shore jutting into Lake Atitlán. The satellitic cone of Cerro de Oro is on the near shore at the upper right, and the NE wall of Atitlán caldera rises nearly 900 m above the far side of the lake. The town of Santiago Atitlán (lower center) lies near the mouth of Santiago Bay. The buried margin of Atitlán I caldera, the first of three Miocene-Pleistocene calderas at Atitlán, lies approximately below Cerro de Oro; the boundary of Atitlán II caldera lies just below the bottom of the photo.

Photo by Bill Rose, 1980 (Michigan Technological University).
Lake Atitlán, one of the scenic highpoints of the Guatemalan Highlands, fills the northern part of the Atitlán caldera complex. The caldera formed in three stages; Atitlán I caldera about 11 million years ago (Ma), Atitlán II caldera about 8 Ma, and Atitlán III caldera about 84,000 years ago. The southern margin of the first caldera lies near the southern shore of the 18-km-wide lake; San Pedro and Tolimán volcanoes were constructed over the southern margin of the second caldera and Atitlán volcano over the third.

NASA Landsat image, 2000 (courtesy of Loren Siebert, University of Akron).

The following references have all been used during the compilation of data for this volcano, it is not a comprehensive bibliography. Discussion of another volcano or eruption (sometimes far from the one that is the subject of the manuscript) may produce a citation that is not at all apparent from the title.

Carr M J, 1984. Symmetrical and segmented variation of physical and geochemical characterisitics of the Central American volcanic front. J Volc Geotherm Res, 20: 231-252.

Haapala J M, Escobar Wolf R, Vallance J W, Rose W I, Griswold J P, Schilling S P, Ewert J W, Mota M, 2006. Volcanic hazards at Atitlan volcano, Guatemala. U S Geol Surv Open-File Rpt, 2005-1403.

Halsor S, Rose W I, 1991. Mineralogical relations and magma mixing in calc-alkaline andesites from Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Mineral Petr, 45: 47-67.

IAVCEI, 1973-80. Post-Miocene Volcanoes of the World. IAVCEI Data Sheets, Rome: Internatl Assoc Volc Chemistry Earth's Interior..

Kutterolf S, Freundt A, Perez W, 2008. Pacific offshore record of plinian arc volcanism in Central America: 2. Tephra volumes and eruptive masses. Geochem Geophys Geosyst, 8: Q02S02, doi:10.1029/2007GC001791.

Mooser F, Meyer-Abich H, McBirney A R, 1958. Central America. Catalog of Active Volcanoes of the World and Solfatara Fields, Rome: IAVCEI, 6: 1-146.

Newhall C G, 1987. Geology of the Lake Atitlan region, western Guatemala. J Volc Geotherm Res, 33: 23-55.

Penfield G T, Rose W I, Halsor S, 1986. Geology of the Lake Atitlan volcanoes. Geol Soc Amer Map and Chart Ser, 55 1:49,212 scale map.

Rose W I, Conway F M, Pullinger C R, Deino A, MacIntosh W C, Svitil K A, 1999. An improved age framework for late Quaternary silicic eruptions in northern Central America. Bull Volc, 61: 106-120.

Rose W I, Penfield G T, Drexler J W, Larson P B, 1980. Geochemistry of the andesite flank lavas of three composite cones within the Atitlan Cauldron, Guatemala. Bull Volc, 43: 131-154.

Sapper K, 1925. The Volcanoes of Central America. Halle: Verlag Max Niemeyer, 144 p.

Siebert L, Alvarado G E, Vallance J W, van Wyk de Vries B, 2006. Large-volume volcanic edifice failures in Central America and associated hazards. In: Rose W I, Bluth G J S, Carr M J, Ewert J W, Patino L C, Vallance J W (eds), Volcanic hazards in Central America, {Geol Soc Amer Spec Pap}, 412: 1-26.

Woodruff L G, Rose W I Jr, Rigot W, 1979. Contrasting fractionation patterns for sequential magmas from two calc-alkaline volcanoes in Central America. J Volc Geotherm Res, 6: 217-240.

Volcano Types

Stratovolcano
Stratovolcano(twin)

Tectonic Setting

Subduction zone
Continental crust (> 25 km)

Rock Types

Major
Andesite / Basaltic Andesite
Rhyolite
Dacite
Minor
Basalt / Picro-Basalt

Population

Within 5 km
Within 10 km
Within 30 km
Within 100 km
2,303
70,431
664,649
8,029,695

Affiliated Databases

Large Eruptions of Atitlán Information about large Quaternary eruptions (VEI >= 4) is cataloged in the Large Magnitude Explosive Volcanic Eruptions (LaMEVE) database of the Volcano Global Risk Identification and Analysis Project (VOGRIPA).
WOVOdat WOVOdat is a database of volcanic unrest; instrumentally and visually recorded changes in seismicity, ground deformation, gas emission, and other parameters from their normal baselines. It is sponsored by the World Organization of Volcano Observatories (WOVO) and presently hosted at the Earth Observatory of Singapore.
EarthChem EarthChem develops and maintains databases, software, and services that support the preservation, discovery, access and analysis of geochemical data, and facilitate their integration with the broad array of other available earth science parameters. EarthChem is operated by a joint team of disciplinary scientists, data scientists, data managers and information technology developers who are part of the NSF-funded data facility Integrated Earth Data Applications (IEDA). IEDA is a collaborative effort of EarthChem and the Marine Geoscience Data System (MGDS).
Smithsonian Collections Search the Smithsonian's NMNH Department of Mineral Sciences collections database. Go to the "Search Rocks and Ores" tab and use the Volcano Name drop-down to find samples.