Oblique synoptic images, produced from digital data, display strong evidence of a "new" caldera in southwestern Guatemala

Wendell Duffield, Grant Heiken, Duncan Foley, Alfred McEwen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The synoptic view of broad regions of the Earth's surface as displayed in Landsat and other satellite images has greatly aided in the recognition of calderas, ignimbrite plateaus and other geologic landforms. Remote-sensing images that include visual representation of depth are an even more powerful tool for geologic interpretation of landscapes, but their use has been largely restricted to the exploration of planets other than Earth. By combining Landsat images with digitized topography, we have generated regional oblique views that display compelling evidence for a previously undocumented late-Cenozoic caldera within the active volcanic zone of southwestern Guatemala. This "new" caldera, herein called Xela, is a depression about 30 km wide and 400-600 m deep, which includes the Quezaltenango basin. The caldera depression is breached only by a single river canyon. The caldera outline is broadly circular, but a locally scalloped form suggests the occurrence of multiple caldera-collapse events, or local slumping of steep caldera walls, or both. Within its northern part, Xela caldera contains a toreva block, about 500 m high and 2 km long, that may be incompletely foundered pre-caldera bedrock. Xela contains several post-caldera volcanoes, some of which are active. A Bouguer gravity low, tens of milligals in amplitude, is approximately co-located with the proposed caldera. The oblique images also display an extensive plateau that dips about 2° away from the north margin of Xela caldera. We interpret this landform to be underlain by pyroclastic outflow from Xela and nearby Atitlán calderas. Field mapping by others has documented a voluminous rhyolitic pumiceous fallout deposit immediately east of Xela caldera. We speculate that Xela caldera was the source of this deposit. If so, the age of at least part of the caldera is between about 84 ka and 126 ka, the ages of deposits that stratigraphically bracket this fallout. Most of the floor of Xela caldera is covered with Los Chocoyos pyroclastics, 84-ka deposits erupted from Atitlán caldera. Oblique images produced from digital data are unique tools that can greatly facilitate initial geologic interpretation of morphologically young volcanic (and other) terrains where field access is limited, especially because conventional visual representations commonly lack depth perspective and may cover only part of the region of interest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-224
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Mar 1993
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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