The chemical and hydrologic structure of Poa ́s Volcano, Costa Rica

Gary L. Rowe, Susan L. Brantley, Jose F. Fernandez, Andrea Borgia

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Comparison of the chemical characteristics of spring and river water draining the flanks of Poa ́s Volcano, Costa Rica indicates that acid chloride sulfate springs of the northwestern flank of the volcano are derived by leakage and mixing of acid brines formed in the summit hydrothermal system with dilute flank groundwater. Acid chloride sulfate waters of the Rio Agrio drainage basin on the northwestern flank are the only waters on Poa ́s that are affected by leakage of acid brines from the summit hydrothermal system. Acid sulfate waters found on the northwestern flank are produced by the interaction of surface and shallow groundwater with dry and wet acid deposition of SO2 and H2SO4 aerosols, respectively. The acid deposition is caused by a plume of acid gases that is released by a shallow magma body located beneath the active crater of Poa ́s. No evidence for a deep reservoir of neutral pH sodium chloride brine is found at Poa ́s. The lack of discharge of sodium chloride waters at Poa ́s is attributed to two factors: (1) the presence of a relatively volatile-rich magma body degassing at shallow depths (< 1 km) into a high level summit groundwater system; and (2) the hydrologic structure of the volcano in which high rates of recharge combine with rapid lateral flow of shallow groundwater to prevent deep-seated sodium chloride fluids from ascending to the surface. The shallow depth of the volatile-rich magma results in the degassing of large quantities of SO2 and HCl. These gases are readily hydrolyzed and quickly mix with meteoric water to form a reservoir of acid chloride-sulfate brine in the summit hydrothermal system. High recharge rates and steep hydraulic gradients associated with elevated topographic features of the summit region promote lateral flow of acid brines generated in the summit hydrothermal system. However, the same high recharge rates and steep hydraulic gradients prevent lateral flow of deep-seated fluids, thereby masking the presence of any sodium chloride brines that may exist in deeper parts of the volcanic edifice. Structural, stratigraphic, and topographic features of Poa ́s Volcano are critical in restricting flow of acid brines to the northwestern flank of the volcano. A permeable lava-lahar sequence that outcrops in the Rio Agrio drainage basin forms a hydraulic conduit between the crater lake and acid chloride sulfate springs. Spring water residence times are estimated from tritium data and indicate that flow of acid brines from the active crater to the Rio Agrio source springs is relatively rapid (3 to 17 years). Hydraulic conductivity values of the lava-lahar sequence calculated from residence time estimates range from 10-5 to 10-7 m/s. These values are consistent with hydraulic conductivity values determined by aquifer tests of fractured and porous lava/pyroclastic sequences at the base of the northwestern flank of the volcano. Fluxes of dissolved rock-forming elements in Rio Agrio indicate that approximately 4300 and 1650 m3 of rock are removed annually from the northwest flank aquifer and the active crater hydrothermal system, respectively. Over the lifetime of the hydrothermal system (100's to 1000's of years), significant increases in aquifer porosity and permeability should occur, in marked contrast to the reduction in permeability that often accompanies hydrothermal alteration in less acidic systems. Average fluxes of fluoride, chloride and sulfur calculated from discharge and compositional data collected in the Rio Agrio drainage basin over the period 1988-1990 are approximately 2, 38 and 30 metric tons/day. These fluxes should be representative of minimum volatile release rates at Poa ́s in the last 10 to 20 years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-267
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Mar 1995

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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