Experts think that it may be bedtime for Arenal

Graph shows the average of seismic activity based on 15-day averages since 2007. Graphic: Red Sismológica Nacional

Is Arenal volcano running out of steam.

That is the question on many lips, especially those of persons with a large investment in tourism in the La Fortuna de San Carlos area near the mountain.

That the mountain would enter a dormant stage is not a surprise to experts who note that the volcano has been perking along throwing out hot rocks and lava for more than four decades. It is one of the premier tourism attractions in Costa Rica, and one estimate is that 80 percent of the real tourists here visit the area.

There are good reasons. There is nothing better than wallowing in a hot swimming pools after sunset with an elbow on a swim-up bar while nursing one of those foamy drinks with the little umbrella. In the distance molten rocks tumble down the mountain and lava splashes upwards.

The mountain has reduced its activity significant since last October, according to vulcanologists at the Red Sismológica Nacional, part of the Universidad de Costa Rica. The mountain is about 7,000 years old and seems to have phases of activity of from 200 to 600 years.

The volcano woke up violently with the tragic 1968 eruption that sent rocks the size of Volkswagens miles in all directions and destroyed much of the area livestock, agricultural land and several communities.

The mountain has been among the top 20 most active volcanos in the world. Since 1968 the mountain has spewed out more than a half a cubic kilometers of lava, the university experts said they
estimated. That is enough to build a road around the earth four times, they said.

Experts track a volcano’s activity by the local earthquakes that frequently are continual. In the case of Arenal, these movements have decreased to nothing, the experts said. The volcanologists Gerardo J. Soto, Mauricio Mora and Guillermo E. Alvarado, have been tracking Arenal for 20 years.

They said the tourism operations in the area are likely to continue offering quality service to visitors and that the Lake Arenal nearby also is an attraction. They also warned that the mountain is unpredictable.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica at Universidad Nacional seconds that opinion. In a separate report, the observatory commented on a silver object, believed to be a cross, that someone erected on a dormant crater at the peak of Arenal about 300 meters from the active crater. It noted that the mountain can throw out blocks of rock some two kilometers from the summit. based on existing impact craters, and that approaching the peak can be fatal.

Some 101 persons have died as a result of Arenal activity in the modern era. Among these are a mother and child who inhaled toxic gases when they approached the volcano too closely in 2000.

The observatory said that the apparent quiet state of the volcano should not encourage tour guides and visitors to approach too closely. The volcano can spew out gases in any direction from its flanks if the active crater is sealed. And many of the slopes are unstable just waiting to tumble, it said. There is a map that shows the restricted area around the volcano.

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