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Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) — February 2003


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 28, no. 2 (February 2003)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke.

Popocatepetl (Mexico) Cycles of dome growth and destruction; continuing explosive activity

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2003. Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) (Venzke, E., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 28:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200302-341090



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

From November 2002 through mid-February 2003, volcanic activity at Popocatépetl was similar to that during July-October 2002 (BGVN 27:10). Activity consisted principally of small-to-moderate eruptions of steam, gas, and minor amounts of ash, and occasional explosions that ejected incandescent fragments for short distances. Larger explosions on 6 November, 18 and 23 December 2003, 9 January, and during 4-10 February 2003 produced ash plumes that reached approximate heights of 4, 2, 2, 3, and 2 km above the crater, respectively. Volcano-tectonic (VT) earthquakes (M 2.0-3.2) occurred frequently, most located to the SE, N, and E at depths up to 7.5 km beneath the crater. Episodes of harmonic and low-amplitude tremor were registered almost daily, typically for a few hours.

Until November, the daily emissions reported by the Centro Nacional de Prevencion de Desastres (CENAPRED) typically numbered from as few as 5 to as many as 20. In late November, this number increased markedly with 78 detected on 24 November and 40 the following day. Subsequently the daily number of these small-to-moderate emissions occasionally exceeded 30 through mid-February 2003.

New episodes of low-frequency tremor, beginning on 19 November, signaled the growth of a new lava dome within the crater. Aerial photographs obtained by the Mexican Ministry of Communications and Transportation on 2 December confirmed the presence of a fresh lava dome with a base diameter of 180 m, and a height of ~52 m. CENAPRED reported that the explosive activity reported on 18 and 23 December was related to the destruction of the lava dome. Photographs of the lava dome taken on 9 January revealed that the dome's inner crater had subsided. The volume of dome material ejected during the December explosions was calculated to be ~500,000 m3.

CENAPRED stated that explosive activity beginning in mid-January was related to the growth of a new lava dome in the crater. On 22 January a significant increase in volcanic microseismicity was recorded. According to the Washington Volcano Ash Advisory Center, on 25 January an ash emission reached ~10.7 km altitude. The explosion on 4 February ejected incandescent volcanic material that fell as far as ~2 km down the volcano's flanks. Similar emissions continued and were related to partial destruction of the lava dome. According to CENAPRED, as long as there are remains of a lava dome in the crater, a significant chance of further explosive activity remains, including ash emissions and incandescent ejections around the crater. The Alert Level remained at Yellow (second on a scale of three colors) and CENAPRED recommended that people avoid entering the restricted zone that extends 12 km from the crater. However, the road between Santiago Xalitzintla (Puebla) and San Pedro Nexapa (Mexico State), including Paso de Cortés, remained open for controlled traffic.

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: Alicia Martinez Bringas, Angel Gómez Vázquez, Roberto Quass Weppen, Enrique Guevara Ortiz, Gilberto Castelan, Gerardo Jímenez and Javier Ortiz, Centro Nacional de Prevención de Desastres (CENAPRED), Av. Delfín Madrigal No.665. Coyoacan, México D.F. 04360, Mexico (URL: https://www.gob.mx/cenapred/); Servando De la Cruz-Reyna, Instituto de Geofísica, UNAM. Cd. Universitaria. Circuito Institutos. Coyoácan. México, D.F. 04510 (URL: http://www.geofisica.unam.mx/); Washington Volcano Ash Advisory Center (VAAC), Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB), NOAA/NESDIS E/SP23, NOAA Science Center Room 401, 5200 Auth Road, Camp Springs, MD 20746, USA (URL: http://www.ospo.noaa.gov/Products/atmosphere/vaac/); Associated Press.