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Hydrogeochemical dynamics affecting steam-heated pools at El Chichón Crater (Chiapas – Mexico)


Corresponding author: Emilio Cuoco, Department of Environmental Sciences, Second University of Naples, Via Vivaldi, 43, 81100, Caserta, Italy.

E-mail: Tel.: 0823 274611. Fax: 0823 274605.


El Chichón is an active volcano located in the north-western Chiapas, southern Mexico. The crater hosts a lake, a spring, named Soap Pool, emerging from the underlying volcanic aquifer and several mud pools/hot springs on the internal flanks of the crater which strongly interact with the current fumarolic system (steam-heated pools). Some of these pools, the crater lake and a cold spring emerging from the 1982 pumice deposits, have been sampled and analysed. Water–volcanic gas interactions determine the heating (43–99°C) and acidification (pH 2–4) of the springs, mainly by H2S oxidation. Significantly, in the study area, a significant NH3 partial pressure has been also detected. Such a geochemically aggressive environment enhances alteration of the rock in situ and strongly increases the mineralization of the waters (and therefore their electrical conductivity). Two different mineralization systems were detected for the crater waters: the soap pool-lake (Na+/Cl = 0.4, Na/Mg>10) and the crater mud pools (Na+/Cl > 10, Na/Mg < 4). A deep boiling, Na+-K+-Cl-rich water reservoir generally influences the Soap Pool-lake, while the mud pool is mainly dominated by water-gas–rock interactions. In the latter case, conductivity of sampled water is directly proportional to the presence of reactive gases in solution. Therefore, chemical evolution proceeds through neutralization due to both rock alteration and bacterial oxidation of ammonium to nitrate. The chemical compositions show that El Chichón aqueous fluids, within the crater, interact with gases fed by a geothermal reservoir, without clear additions of deep magmatic fluids. This new geochemical dataset, together with previously published data, can be used as a base line with which to follow-up the activity of this deadly volcano.