Cofre de Perote volcano is a compound, shield-like volcano located in the northeastern Trans-Mexican volcanic belt. Large debris avalanche and lahar deposits are associated with the evolution of Cofre. The two best preserved of these debris-avalanche and debris-flow deposits are the ∼42 ka “Los Pescados debris flow” deposit and the ∼11–13 ka “Xico avalanche” deposit, both of which display contrasting morphological and textural characteristics, source materials, origins and emplacement environments. Laboratory X-ray diffraction and visible-infrared reflectance spectroscopy were used to identify the most abundant clay, sulfate, ferric-iron, and silica minerals in the deposits, which were either related to hydrothermal alteration or chemical weathering processes. Cloud-free Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) remote sensing imagery, supporting EO-1 Hyperion image spectra, and field ground truth samples were used to map the mineralogy and distribution of hydrothermally altered rocks on the modern summit of Cofre de Perote. The results were then compared to minerals identified in the two debris-avalanche and debris-flow deposits in order to assess possible source materials and origins for the two deposits.
The older Los Pescados debris-flow deposit contains mostly halloysite and hydrous silica minerals, which match the dominant mineralogy of soils and weathered volcanic deposit in the surrounding flanks of Cofre de Perote. Its source materials were most likely derived from initially noncohesive or clay-poor flows, which subsequently bulked with clay-rich valley soils and alluvium in a manner similar to lahars from Nevado del Ruiz in 1985, but on a larger scale. The younger Xico avalanche deposit contains abundant smectite, jarosite, kaolinite, gypsum, and mixed-layered illite/smectite, which are either definitely or most likely of hydrothermal alteration origin. Smectite in particular appears to be the most abundant and spectrally dominant mineral in summit ground truth samples, ASTER mapping results, Xico avalanche deposit, and an older (pre-Xico avalanche) deposit derived from collapse(s) of ancestral Cofre de Perote edifice. However, both Xico avalanche and Los Pescados debris flow deposits show some evidence of secondary, postemplacement weathering and induration, which is evident by the presence of gibbsite, and hydroxyl interlayered minerals, in addition to recently formed halloysite and hydrous silica (i.e., indurating) cements. Field-based, visible infrared image spectroscopy (VIS/IR) spectral measurements offer the possibility of distinguishing primary minerals of hydrothermal alteration origin in debris-avalanche and debris-flow deposits from those produced either by in situ chemical weathering or bulked from weathered source materials.