Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Geology (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences


Thomas Oommen


Alessandro Tibaldi


The Pacaya volcanic complex is part of the Central American volcanic arc, which is associated with the subduction of the Cocos tectonic plate under the Caribbean plate. Located 30 km south of Guatemala City, Pacaya is situated on the southern rim of the Amatitlan Caldera. It is the largest post-caldera volcano, and has been one of Central America’s most active volcanoes over the last 500 years. Between 400 and 2000 years B.P, the Pacaya volcano had experienced a huge collapse, which resulted in the formation of horseshoe-shaped scarp that is still visible. In the recent years, several smaller collapses have been associated with the activity of the volcano (in 1961 and 2010) affecting its northwestern flanks, which are likely to be induced by the local and regional stress changes. The similar orientation of dry and volcanic fissures and the distribution of new vents would likely explain the reactivation of the pre-existing stress configuration responsible for the old-collapse.

This paper presents the first stability analysis of the Pacaya volcanic flank. The inputs for the geological and geotechnical models were defined based on the stratigraphical, lithological, structural data, and material properties obtained from field survey and lab tests. According to the mechanical characteristics, three lithotechnical units were defined: Lava, Lava-Breccia and Breccia-Lava. The Hoek and Brown’s failure criterion was applied for each lithotechnical unit and the rock mass friction angle, apparent cohesion, and strength and deformation characteristics were computed in a specified stress range. Further, the stability of the volcano was evaluated by two-dimensional analysis performed by Limit Equilibrium (LEM, ROCSCIENCE) and Finite Element Method (FEM, PHASE 2 7.0). The stability analysis mainly focused on the modern Pacaya volcano built inside the collapse amphitheatre of “Old Pacaya”.

The volcanic instability was assessed based on the variability of safety factor using deterministic, sensitivity, and probabilistic analysis considering the gravitational instability and the effects of external forces such as magma pressure and seismicity as potential triggering mechanisms of lateral collapse. The preliminary results from the analysis provide two insights: first, the least stable sector is on the south-western flank of the volcano; second, the lowest safety factor value suggests that the edifice is stable under gravity alone, and the external triggering mechanism can represent a likely destabilizing factor.

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