Popo Sends Steam, Ash Into Air

Mexico’s largest active volcano Popocatepetl, near Cuernavaca, has spewed a burst of ash 4.3 miles (7 kilometers) into the air after breaking through a dome of lava at 12:05 p.m. on Sunday. The explosion continues to emit a series of moderate eruptions from the 17,802-foot (5,426-meter) volcano.

Mexico’s National Disaster Prevention Center states that the volcano has been emitting small but steady stream of steam and gas since Friday.

Mexico City Civil Protection Director Elias Moreno was quoted on Foro Television that there were no reports of danger or of ash falling on nearby communities.

Popocatepetl, had a total of four low-intensity exhalations after a powerful explosion around midday on Sunday, Carlos Gutierrez, head of research at Cenapred, said. Cenapred is maintaining a yellow alert for the area, Gutierrez said

The smoke was clearly visible from the capital with some 20 million inhabitants as well as nearby cities in the central provinces of Cuernavaca, Puebla, and as far away as Mexico City.

Access to the volcano has been restricted to a radius of 12 km around the crater after Sunday’s explosion and ejected smoke and ash over 7 km high into the air.

The explosion startled nearby residents, but officials said no damage or injuries had been reported so far.

The Popocatepetl volcano, which has been erupting intermittently since December 1994, last had a major eruption in December 2000, when masses of lava flowed for weeks and led to the evacuation of some 56,000 people from the 40 villages within 12 km (7.2 miles) of the volcano. Many of the residents were reluctant to evacuate at that time for fear they would lose their crops and animals if they were not tended. This came after nearly 70-years of dormancy and was the largest eruption of Popocatepetl in 1,200 years.

Scientists monitoring the current activity at Popocatepetl were expecting continued “moderate exhalations and low level sporadic explosions” including possible volcanic fragments from the crater, Gutierrez said.

About Popocatepetl

Popocatépetl also known as “Popochowa” by the local population is an active volcano and is the second highest peak in Mexico after the Pico de Orizaba (5,636 m/18,491 ft). Popocatepetl is linked to the Iztaccihuatl volcano to the north by the high saddle known as the Paso de Cortés, and lies in the eastern half of the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt.

Popocatepetl is 70 km (43 mi) southeast of Mexico City, from where it can be seen regularly, depending on atmospheric conditions. The residents of Puebla, a mere 40 km (25 mi) east of the volcano, enjoy the views of the snowy and glacier-clad mountain almost all year long. The volcano is also one of the three tall peaks in Mexico to contain glaciers, the others being Iztaccihuatl and Pico de Orizaba. Magma erupted from Popocatepetl is a mixture of dacite and basaltic andesite.

The name Popocatepetl comes from the Nahuatl words popōca ‘it smokes’ and tepētl ‘mountain’, thus Smoking Mountain. The volcano is sometimes referred to as Don Goyo, which comes from the mountain’s association in the lore of the region with San Gregorio (St. Gregory), “Goyo” being a nickname-like short form of Gregorio.

The stratovolcano contains a steep-walled, 400 × 600 m (1,300 × 2,000 ft) wide crater. The generally symmetrical volcano is modified by the sharp-peaked Ventorrillo on the NW, a remnant of an earlier volcano. At least three previous major cones were destroyed by gravitational failure during the Pleistocene, producing massive debris avalanche deposits covering broad areas south of the volcano. The modern volcano was constructed to the south of the late-Pleistocene to Holocene El Fraile cone. Three major plinian eruptions, the most recent of which took place about 800 CE, have occurred from Popocatépetl since the mid Holocene, accompanied by pyroclastic flows and voluminous lahars that swept basins below the volcano.

Popocatepetl is one of the most violent volcanoes in Mexico, having had more than 15 major eruptions since the arrival of the Spanish in 1519. A major eruption occurred in 1947 to begin this cycle of activity. Then, on December 21, 1994, the volcano spewed gas and ash which was carried as far as 25 km (16 mi) away by prevailing winds. The activity prompted the evacuation of nearby towns and scientists to begin monitoring for an eruption. In December 2000, tens of thousands of people were evacuated by the government based on the warnings of scientists. The volcano then made its largest display in 1,200 years.

According to paleomagnetic studies, the volcano is about 730,000 years old. Elevation 5,450 m (17,880 ft) in cone form with a diameter of 25 km (16 mi) at its base and the crater has an elliptical shape with an orientation northeast-southeast. the walls of the crater oscillate between 600 to 840 m (2,000 to 2,760 ft). Popocatépetl is currently active after being dormant for about half of last century. In 1991 the volcano’s activity increased and since 1993 smoke can be seen constantly emanating from the crater.

There is a large record of the volcano’s activity throughout antiquity. In 1927 an eruption was artificially triggered by the use of  dynamite in the crater for sulfur extraction. The last violent eruption was registered in 2000. on December 25, 2005, the volcano’s crater produced a new explosion which ejected a large column of smoke and ash about 3 km (1.9 mi) into the atmosphere and expulsion of lava.

The first Spanish ascent of the volcano was made by an expedition led by Diego de Ordaz in 1519. The early 16th-century monasteries on the slopes of the mountain are a World Heritage Site.

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About G. William Hood

G. William Hood is a writer, fine arts painter, educator and world traveler. He lives in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
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