Central America Volcanic Arc

A volcanic arc is defined as a chain of volcanoes that usually form above a subducting tectonic plate. Volcanic arcs are generally formed during the process of subduction, when one oceanic tectonic plate moves under another plate, often occurring parallelly to an oceanic trench. These arcs are generally curved since they lie adjacent to subduction zones that form on a convex surface. Volcanic arcs are of the following two types: oceanic arcs and continental arcs. The oceanic arcs result in the formation of volcanic island arcs whereas continental arcs lead to the formation of arc-shaped mountain belts.

Central America volcanic belt
Central America volcanic belt. Image credit: Judygreenberg, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Central America Volcanic Arc (CAVA) is a series of volcanoes that extend for about 1,500km from Guatemala to El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and finally culminating in northern Panama. The volcanoes of the Central America Volcanic Arc were created due to the subduction of the Cocos plate under the Caribbean Plate. This volcanic arc runs parallel to the Pacific coastline of Central America and is placed on an active subduction zone which forms the western border of the oceanic Caribbean tectonic plate.

Poas Volcano, Costa Rica, Central America
Poas Volcano, Costa Rica, Central America

The Central America Volcanic Arc includes numerous volcanic features like stratovolcanoes, lava domes, and cinder cones. Some of the volcanoes of this Central American Volcanic Arc are still predominantly active and have resulted in large explosions from time to time. Some of the active volcanoes that are located in Central America include the Santa María/Santiaguito, Volcán de Fuego, and Pacaya volcanoes in Guatemala; the Izalco, San Miguel, and Santa Ana volcano in El Salvador; San Cristóbal, Concepción and Cerro Negro volcano in Nicaragua; and the Rincon de la Vieja, Poás, Turrialba, Irazú, and Arenal volcanoes in Costa Rica.

In 1902, the Santa María volcano in Guatemala recorded eruptions that had rank 6 in the Volcanic Explosivity Index.  Some of the highest volcanoes of the Central America Volcanic Arc are found in Guatemala including the Tajumulco, and Volcán Tacaná, both of which rise to an elevation of more than 4,000m.

A large number of active volcanoes in the Central America Volcanic Arc are under the constant monitoring of different government agencies and observatories.

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