Since the March-April 1982 eruption of El Chichòn volcano, intense hydrothermal activity has characterised the 1-km-wide summit crater. This mainly consists of mud and boiling pools, fumaroles, which are mainly located in the northwestern bank of the crater lake. During the period 1998-2000, hot springs and fumaroles discharging inside the crater and from the southeastern outer flank (Agua Caliente) were collected for chemical analyses. The observed chemical fluctuations suggest that the physico-chemical boundary conditions regulating the thermodynamic equilibria of the deep rock/fluid interactions have changed with time. The chemical composition of the lake water, characterised in the period 1983-1997 by high Na+, Cl-, Ca2+and SO42-contents, experienced a dramatic change in 1998-1999, turning from a Na+-Cl-- to a Ca2+-SO42--rich composition. In June 2000, a relatively sharp increase in Na+and Cl-contents was observed. At the same time, SO2/H2S ratios and H2and CO contents in most gas discharges increased with respect to the previous two years of observations, suggesting either a new input of deep-seated fluids or local variations of the more surficial hydrothermal system. Migration of gas manifestations, enhanced number of emission spots and variations in both gas discharge flux and outlet temperatures of the main fluid manifestations were also recorded. The magmatic-hydrothermal system of El Chichòn is probably related to interaction processes between a deep magmatic source and a surficial cold aquifer; an important role may also be played by the interaction of the deep fluids with the volcanic rocks and the sedimentary (limestone and evaporites) basement. The chemical and physical changes recorded in 1998-2000 were possibly due to variations in the permeability of the conduit system feeding the fluid discharges at surface, as testified by the migration of gas and water emanations. Two different scenarios can be put forward for the volcanic evolution of El Chichòn: (1) build-up of an infra-crater dome that may imply a future eruption in terms of tens to hundreds of years; (2) minor phreatic-phreatomagmatic events whose prediction and timing is more difficult to constrain. This suggests that, unlike the diminished volcanic activity at El Chichòn after the 1982 paroxistic event, the volcano-hydrothermal fluid discharges need to be more constantly monitored with regular and more frequent geochemical sampling and, at the same time, a permanent network of seismic stations should be installed. © 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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