USGS and USAID announce US-Panamanian action in response to a joint study of Panama's Baru volcano

March 04, 2008

A network of seismic instruments has been placed around Panama's Baru Volcano to help detect an eruption and mitigate danger to surrounding communities.

The Panamanian government funded the instrumentation, completed by the University of Panama's Department of Geosciences, in swift response to a Joint Study of Panama's Baru Volcano, which revealed that it is a potentially active volcano that has the possibility to erupt again.

No unusual activity has taken place at Baru Volcano since 2006, when an earthquake swarm occurred beneath the volcano, which had been slumbering for more than 400 years.

The report, released January 18, 2008, was a collective effort of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the University of Panama with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Panamanian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, and the U.S. Embassy in Panama.

The report and accompanying maps were designed to provide emergency managers in Panama with the tools necessary to prepare and implement protective measures if new eruptive activity begins and provide information to promote risk-wise and disaster resilient communities. These new materials were incorporated into the ongoing disaster preparedness and mitigation activities conducted by USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance with the GOP and non-governmental organizations. In addition to hazard mapping, these activities have included institutional strengthening of SINAPROC (the Panamanian agency that responds to natural disasters), with emphasis on emergency management procedures; support for adding risk reduction subjects in the formal education system; strengthening of all first responder agencies, especially in the areas of personnel development and interagency coordination; and support of community-based organization and preparedness initiatives.

There is no reliable way to predict a future eruption of Baru, but seismic activity and ground deformation, lasting for days to months, would precede any future eruption, scientists note. "Future eruptions will likely be similar to past eruptions -- explosive and dangerous to those living on the volcano's flanks," said the scientists in a report which can be accessed online at: "Outlying towns and cities could endure several years of disruption in the wake of renewed volcanic activity."

Panamanian officials recognized they needed a volcano hazards assessment and tools to prepare the communities for an eruption even though the volcano has been quiet since 2006. They turned to the U.S. Mission in Panama for help. Through the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program, a joint venture between the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a team of scientists was deployed onsite to work with Panamanian scientists to evaluate Baru's past, present, and future eruption potential.

The bi-national team uncovered the explosive history of Baru Volcano by examining and dating the deposits on its flanks, which show evidence of repeated violent eruptions. It has had four eruptive episodes during the past 1,600 years, the most recent approximately 400 years ago.

Earthquake activity beneath Panama's Baru Volcano in May 2006 served as a reminder that the slumbering volcano, long thought to be dormant by local residents, might one day reawaken.

More than 10,000 people live in areas adjacent to the volcano. Three towns are located within a 10-mile radius of the mouth of the volcano -- Boquete, Cerro Punta, and Volcan -- and they are attractive places to live.
The USGS provides science for a changing world. For more information, visit Additional information about volcanoes and volcano hazards may be found at: Subscribe to USGS News Releases via our electronic mailing list or RSS feed.

USAID is an independent federal government agency that receives overall foreign policy guidance from the Secretary of State. Our work supports long-term and equitable economic growth and advances U.S. foreign policy objectives by supporting economic growth; agriculture and trade; global health; and, democracy, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance. For more information on USAID worldwide, please visit: Information on USAID's programs in Panama are located at:

US Geological Survey

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