Nevado del Ruiz generates Plinian eruptions, which produce swift-moving currents of hot gas and rock called pyroclastic flows. These eruptions often cause massive lahars (mud and debris flows), which pose a threat to human life and the environment. In 1595, the Nevado del Ruiz erupted and a lahar swept down the valleys of the River Guali and the River Lagunillas, killing 636 people. In 1845, an immense lahar flooded the upper valley of the River Lagunillas, killing over 1000 people. It continued for 70 kilometers downstream before spreading across a plain in the lower valley floor. The young village of Armero was built directly on top of the 1845 mudflow deposit. Over the ensuing years, Armero grew into a vibrant town with over 27,000 residents.
On November 13, 1985, a small eruption produced an enormous lahar that buried and desolated the town of Armero in Tolima Department, causing an estimated 23,000 deaths. This event later became known as the Armero tragedy—the deadliest lahar in recorded history. Similar but less deadly incidents occurred in 1595 and 1845, consisting of a small explosive eruption followed by a large lahar.
The Nevado del Ruiz is part of the Ruiz–Tolima volcanic massif (or Cordillera Central), a group of five ice-capped volcanoes which includes the Tolima, Santa Isabel, Quindio and Machin. The volcano is part of Los Nevados National Park, which also contains several other volcanoes. The summit of Nevado del Ruiz is covered by large glaciers, although these have retreated significantly since 1985 because of atmospheric warming. The volcano continues to pose a threat to the nearby towns and villages, and it is estimated that up to 500,000 people could be at risk from lahars.
Satellite photograph of the Nevado del Ruiz
1985 Eruption of Nevado del Ruiz (Video)