The 5,967-meter- (19,577-foot-) high Sabancaya stratovolcano (Nevado Sabancaya in the local language) is located in southern Perú, approximately 70 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of the city of Arequipa. The name Sabancaya means “tongue of fire” in the Quechua Indian language.
Sabancaya is part of a volcanic complex that includes two other nearby (and older) volcanoes, neither of which has been active historically. In this detailed astronaut photograph, Nevado Ampato is visible to the south (image left), and the lower flanks of Nevado Hualca Hualca are visible to the north (image top right). The snowy peaks of the three volcanoes provide a stark contrast to the surrounding desert of the Puna Plateau.
Sabancaya’s first historical record of an eruption dates to 1750. The most recent eruptive activity at the volcano occurred in July 2003, and it deposited ash on the volcano’s summit and northeastern flank. Volcanism at Sabancaya is fueled by magma generated at the subduction zone between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates.
Magma can erupt to the surface and form lava flows through the volcano’s summit (frequently forming a crater), but it can also erupt from lava domes and flank vents along the volcano’s sides. Lava has issued from all of these points at Sabancaya, forming numerous gray to dark brown scalloped lobes that extend in all directions except southwards (image center).