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Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) — November 1998


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 23, no. 11 (November 1998)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Popocatepetl (Mexico) Growing lava body in crater leads to larger explosions

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1998. Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 23:11. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199811-341090



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

A change in the typical low-level steam-and-gas emission regime in late November and early December suggested that a new lava body was growing inside the crater. The following has been condensed from CENAPRED bulletins.

Low-level activity continued during the first three weeks of November, and included low-intensity, short-duration exhalations of steam and gas with occasional eruptions of ash. Bad weather obstructed observations on many days. Authorities recommended that no one approach within 5 km of the crater because of the danger of sudden explosions. The volcanic alert level remained at yellow, indicating a state of heightened caution. Several A-type earthquakes occurred (on 6, 14, 15, 16, and 17 November; M 2.1-2.9), generally 3-4 km E or SE from the crater, none of which seemed to affect eruptive activity. One exceptional emission occurred at 0109 on 9 November; its intense phase lasted one minute and was followed by 12 minutes of high-frequency tremor.

At 1753 on 19 November a moderately large eruption was followed by five smaller ones. The series lasted seven minutes and produced an ash column that rose 2-3 km above the summit and dissipated NNW. Light ash fall was reported in the neighboring town of Amecameca. At 2019 a slightly smaller exhalation lasted nine minutes.

At 1302 on 22 November the volcano began a substantial increase in activity, starting with a sequence of small ash emissions; light ashfall was reported at Paso de Cortés and Amecameca. This activity continued into the night with about 40 separate emission events by midnight. Exhalations increased, and at about 0430 on 23 November harmonic tremor episodes were recorded. At 0530 incandescence at the crater could be seen, at 0854 high-frequency tremor started, and at 0922 a moderate ash emission generated a column 3 km above the summit. By noon about 100 exhalations had been recorded. Dense fumarolic clouds of gas and steam were blown NW. Beginning at 1245 activity increased again: high-frequency tremor and emissions occurred at a rate of one per minute. Although the summit was obscured by cloud, it was assumed, based on reports from local towns, that ash emissions were continuous. After 1515 seismicity increased to saturation levels on most of the recording instruments. Later, an emission of steam, gas, and ash could be seen. At 1630 seismicity started to decrease.

Small, low-frequency tremor signals began around 0200 on 24 November, and intensified between 0300 and 0600. The tremor was accompanied by continuous emissions of gas, steam, and some ash, blown to the SW. At 1257 another increase of activity began. Low-frequency tremor of variable amplitude was recorded until 1600. Poor visibility prevented direct observation of the summit during most of the day.

A steam plume that rose 2-2.5 km over the summit persisted until 0803 on 25 November when a moderately large explosion lasting one minute produced an ash plume that rose 3-4 km over the summit (figure 28) and threw rock fragments to a distance of 2 km. The top of the plume moved N, while the lower part moved SW; ashfall warnings were issued to towns in those directions. A low-frequency tremor signal followed the explosion and persisted through the day. Other explosions occurred at 1205 and 1658 on 25 November. Although the explosions were heard in nearby towns, there were no reports of large ash emissions, and it is likely that the ejected rock fragments were dispersed around the crater.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 28. Characteristic explosions and associated plumes from Popocatépetl taken by CENAPRED's video monitor during 25-26 November 1998. Scenes 1-3 (top) are from 0803-0805 on 25 November; scenes 4-5 (bottom) are from 1013-1015 on 26 November. Courtesy of CENAPRED.

An increase in tremor was followed by new explosions at 0654 and 0719 on 26 November. Moderate steam-and-ash plumes rose to a height of 1,500 m above the summit. A stronger exhalation at 0931 produced a moderate plume of steam and ash rising 3-3.5 km above the summit. Other explosions at 1013 (figure 28) and 1104 produced higher ash columns. In all cases warnings were issued to air-traffic controllers. A new warning to the general population recommended approaching no closer than 7 km from the crater. Tremor was followed by volcanic earthquakes at 2113 and 2220; both events produced moderately large explosions and ash plumes, and during the later event incandescent lava fragments were thrown to a distance of ~1.5 km.

Moderate explosions were detected in the crater at 1206, 1333, 1749, and 2345 on 27 November, and at 0242 and 1021 on 28 November. All of them, except the third, expelled incandescent fragments of lava around the crater to a distance of 0.5-2 km, and produced moderately large emissions of ash, rising in most cases up to 4 km over the summit. This activity was detected against a background of low-level exhalation and tremor signals of decreasing amplitude. Light ashfall had been reported in Tlacotitlán at 0130 on 28 November. During 28 November activity increased again following several short harmonic tremor signals at 2130. At 2228 a moderate volcano-tectonic event was followed by small tremor episodes.

At 0002 and 0305 on 29 November two explosions were preceded by low-frequency tremor. The second explosion produced a shock wave clearly heard at Paso de Cortes and San Nicolás de los Ranchos. Large quantities of glowing rocks ejected from the crater could be seen falling in a area of ~3 km radius. There was also a large ash emission. At 0654 a moderately large emission, lasting seven minutes, formed an ash plume 4 km above the summit. At 1118 there were several low-frequency harmonic tremors. A moderately large explosion at 1645 ejected incandescent lava blocks around the cone and produced an ash plume up to 7 km above the summit (according to personnel working close to Paso de Cortes).

Tremor episodes and moderate emissions of steam, ash, and gas with occasional explosions persisted over the next week. One explosion at 0929 on 30 November began with a strong shock wave and blast, ejected fragments over its flanks 2-3 km from the crater, and produced an ash column 4 km above the summit. At 1853 on 3 December an explosion ejected incandescent fragments over the SE flanks and produced a moderately large ash cloud, carried by the wind to the SE. The explosion signal lasted one minute, followed by 15 minutes of tremor. At 1255 on 4 December an explosion threw hot debris on the SE flanks and produced an ash plume that rose 4-5 km above the summit. Another explosive eruption at 1511 on 6 December ejected incandescent rocks over the E and N flanks and produced an ash column 5 km above the summit that dispersed to the NW. This event lasted 1.5 minutes and was followed by high-frequency tremor for four minutes. Three explosions were recorded on 7 December at 0241, 0449, and 0623; glowing fragments fell on the E and N flanks and an ash column rose 4 km. The last of these events lasted 1.5 minutes and was followed by high-frequency tremor for 10 more minutes. During 8 December frequent exhalations with durations of 3-10 minutes each produced steam-and-ash columns 2 km above the summit.

Activity became stable at lower levels during the second week of December, persisting until the time of this report (15 December).

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: Servando De la Cruz-Reyna1,2, Roberto Quaas1,2, Carlos Valdés G.2, and Alicia Martinez Bringas1. 1 Centro Nacional de Prevencion de Desastres (CENAPRED) Delfin Madrigal 665, Col. Pedregal de Santo Domingo,Coyoacan, 04360, México D.F. (URL: https://www.gob.mx/cenapred/); 2 Instituto de Geofisica, UNAM, Coyoacán 04510, México D.F., México.