Volcanic processes and human exposure as elements to build a risk model for Volcan de Fuego, Guatemala
The activity of Fuego volcano during the 1999 - 2013 eruptive episode is studied through field, remote sensing and observatory records. Mapping of the deposits allows quantifying the erupted volumes and areas affected by the largest eruptions during this period. A wide range of volcanic processes results in a diversity of products and associated deposits, including minor airfall tephra, rockfall avalanches, lava flows, and pyroclastic flows. The activity can be characterized by long term, low level background activity, and sporadic larger explosive eruptions. Although the background activity erupts lava and ash at a low rate (~ 0.1 m3/s), the persistence of such activity over time results in a significant contribution (~ 30%) to the eruption budget during the studied period. Larger eruptions produced the majority of the volume of products during the studied period, mainly during three large events (May 21, 1999, June 29, 2003, and September 13, 2012), mostly in the form of pyroclastic flows. A total volume of ~ 1.4 x 108 m3 was estimated from the mapped deposits and the estimated background eruption rate. Posterior remobilization of pyroclastic flow material by stream erosion in the highly confined Barranca channels leads to lahar generation, either by normal rainfall, or by extreme rainfall events.
A reassessment of the types of products and volumes erupted during the decade of 1970's allows comparing the activity happening since 1999 with the older activity, and suggests that many of the eruptive phenomena at Fuego may have similar mechanisms, despite the differences in scale between. The deposits of large pyroclastic flows erupted during the 1970's are remarkably similar in appearance to the deposit of pyroclastic flows from the 1999 - 2013 period, despite their much larger volume; this is also the case for prehistoric eruptions. Radiocarbon dating of pyroclastic flow deposits suggests that Fuego has produced large eruptions many times during the last ~ 2 ka, including larger eruptions during the last 500 years, which has important hazard implications.
A survey was conducted among the local residents living near to the volcano, about their expectations of possible future crises. The results show that people are aware of the risk they could face in case of a large eruption, and therefore they are willing to evacuate in such case. However, their decision to evacuate may also be influenced by the conditions in which the evacuation could take place. If the evacuation represents a potential loss of their livelihood or property they will be more hesitant to leave their villages during a large eruption. The prospect of facing hardship conditions during the evacuation and in the shelters may further cause reluctance to evacuate. A short discussion on some of the issues regarding risk assessment and management through an early warning system is presented in the last chapter.