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Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) — January 1994


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 19, no. 1 (January 1994)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Popocatepetl (Mexico) High SO2 flux on 1 February (1,200 +/- 400 metric tons/day)

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1994. Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 19:1. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199401-341090



19.023°N, 98.622°W; summit elev. 5393 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

In 1993 steam vents in the summit crater grew in number and output, leading to off-white plumes that extended 50 km downwind in mid-November (18:6 & 11). A visit to the summit crater on 30 January revealed conditions similar to those in June 1993, but the small intermittent lake had changed from clear green to a milky greenish color. This change was confirmed by photographic comparisons, and is thought to reflect the increased absorption of acid gases and steam.

SO2 output was measured by ultraviolet absorption correlation spectrometry (COSPEC) from a fixed-wing airplane on 1 February 1994. Wind speed, an important parameter in the SO2 flux calculation, was estimated at 36 km/hr by two means: 1) knowledge of the wind speed at the crater rim on the previous day, and 2) aircraft navigation instrumentation (Global Positioning System).

Fischer, Williams, Delgado Granados, and Siebe described their data and its significance. "Nine traverses of the plume were recorded and measurements averaged 1,200 ± 400 metric tons/ day SO2. The weather was good and the plume could be observed very well, favoring the quality of the measurements. This level of SO2 emissions puts Popocatépetl into a small league of half a dozen volcanoes worldwide that emit such high levels of magmatic gases. It is a symptom of reawakening and is usually associated with significant danger of magmatic activity. However, with no previous records from Popocatépetl, one must be careful about reaching conclusions before a good baseline is available."

Seismic events at the volcano are defined by Guillermo González-Pomposo, Valdés González, and Martin del Pozzo as follows. Type-A events have frequencies above 5 Hz, with identifiable and impulsive P and S phases, and S minus P times of 1.5 to 3 seconds. Coda duration (the "tail" of the event) is <40 seconds. Type-B events have frequencies in the 1.0 to 1.6 Hz range. Type-B events characteristically exhibit an emergent P phase arrival, that is the P phase increases in amplitude with time. They also have an S phase arrival that is hard to identify. Coda duration is <125 seconds. Type-AB events are made up of both low and high frequencies. The high frequency phases include impulsive P and S waves. These high frequency phases arrive first and extend for <5.5 seconds; the S - P times are 1.5 to 2 seconds. The amplitudes of P waves and S waves for type AB are smaller than for type A. The characteristic period of the low-frequency phases is 0.8 seconds, and these signals may last for 150 seconds.

During December type-A events took place 12 times, type-B events 62 times, and type-AB events 12 times. For each type, the frequency of events was roughly evenly distributed across the month. For type A there were 5 events on 8 December and 1-2 events on 4 other days. For type B there were 7 events/day on 3 December and 0-5 events on other days. For type AB there were 3 events on 15 December and 0-2 events on other days.

Geological Summary. Volcán Popocatépetl, whose name is the Aztec word for smoking mountain, rises 70 km SE of Mexico City to form North America's 2nd-highest volcano. The glacier-clad stratovolcano contains a steep-walled, 400 x 600 m 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 to the south. The modern volcano was constructed 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 since the mid-Holocene, accompanied by pyroclastic flows and voluminous lahars that swept basins below the volcano. Frequent historical eruptions, first recorded in Aztec codices, have occurred since Pre-Columbian time.

Information Contacts: Guillermo González-Pomposo, Carlos Valdés González, and Ana Lillian Martin del Pozzo, Departamento de Sismología y Volcanología, Instituto de Geofísica, UNAM; Tobias P. Fisher and Stanley N. Williams, Arizona State Univ, USA; Claus Siebe and Hugo Delgado Granados, Instituto de Geofisíca, UNAM.