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Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) — May 1999


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 24, no. 5 (May 1999)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Popocatepetl (Mexico) Seismicity, rockfalls, and gas-and-ash ejections

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1999. Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 24:5. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199905-341090



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

During May, Popocatépetl generally displayed low activity. Seismicity included small, isolated exhalations of gas, steam, and ash. The alert status remained at "Yellow" with a 7-km radius of restricted access.

A gas-and-steam exhalation at 1315 on 5 May lasted 12 minutes and produced a plume to ~1 km above the crater. Gas-and-steam exhalations at 1435 and 1623 on 6 May lasted 30 and 14 minutes, respectively, and both produced plumes rising ~1 km above the crater. Separate seismic events at 2053 and 2133 on 10 May were possibly rockfalls on the S flank. Visibility was obstructed by clouds. The next morning a steam column from the crater was seen rising about 500 m above the summit. Beginning at 2200 on 13 May, a sequence of seismic events with variable amplitudes was accompanied by high-frequency tremor. Stable seismic conditions returned after about an hour.

Activity increased on 15 May and included small rivulets of meltwater. At 0246 on 16 May a moderately large explosion occurred. Later (at 0706) a moderate exhalation, lasting three minutes, produced an ash column rising 2,500 m above the summit before dispersing to the SW. No ashfall was reported. Several volcano-tectonic events were recorded on 17 May; their signals possibly related to small rivulets of meltwater descending the N flank.

During the night of 23 May a swarm of three tectonic earthquakes was centered 2.5 km E of the crater. The first, at 2251, had M 1.7 and was located at a depth of 4.5 km; the next occurred at 2338, had M 1.9, and was located at a depth of 5.2 km; and the last was at 2339, had M 2.0, and was located at a depth of 5.8 km.

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, Coyoacán, 04360, México D.F. (URL: https://www.gob.mx/cenapred/); 2-Instituto de Geofisica, UNAM, Coyoacán 04510, México D.F., México.