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Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) — April 1995


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 20, no. 4 (April 1995)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Popocatepetl (Mexico) Located seismic events and summit crater observations

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1995. Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 20:4. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199504-341090



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

"We report on Popocatepetl seismic activity during the interval 21 December 1994 to 2 May 1995. Activity was monitored using seven seismic stations located around to the volcano above 2,600 m elevation (figure 9). These stations are part of the Popocatepetl Seismic Network. Beginning 21 December, the volcano changed dramatically in its seismic and fumarolic activity. Several explosions emitted ash that fell on Puebla City, an area located about 50 km away. About 22 hours after this activity, seismic tremor was observed for the first time at several stations.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 9. Stations of the Popocatepetl Seismic Network (triangles) and epicenters for located events detected 21 December to 2 May 1995 (dots). Courtesy of Instituto de Geofisica, UNAM.

"In the 21 December-2 May interval we located 75 seismic events in the vicinity of the volcano (figure 9). We used arrival times from digital records from at least three stations and located the events using Hypocenter software. The average standard location errors in the horizontal and vertical directions do not exceed 1 km with a standard deviation of 0.14 km (figure 10). Earthquake magnitudes (calculated using a coda length magnitude for tectonic events in Mexico) ranged between 1.4 and 3.4 (as represented by different sized dots on figure 10). The E-W cross section of the hypocenters (figure 10) shows a concentration of seismic events in a circle of 3.0 km diameter and in a conduit that connects to the overlying crater. These results crudely suggest a magma chamber located below sea level and connected to the volcano crater. A N-S cross section suggests the same findings.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 10. An E-W cross section of the hypocenters beneath Popocatepetl for the interval 21 December 1994 to 2 May 1995. Earthquake magnitudes are shown by dot sizes; the size of error bars are discussed in the text. Courtesy of Instituto de Geofisica, UNAM.

"During the first four days (21-24 December) seismic tremor was continuous and of high amplitude. During the following 20 days (25 December-13 January) tremor was also continuous, but the amplitude diminished five-fold compared to the first four days. After that, in the next 45 days (14 January-28 February), tremor turned sporadic with durations of about 10 minutes and with amplitudes comparable to those in the first four days. During the last 60 days, tremor became more sporadic with smaller durations, but it still had amplitudes similar to, and in some cases exceeding, those of the first four days.

"On 12 March an expedition lead by Enrique Chaves-Popuard reached the volcano's summit. The meteorological conditions allowed the team to videotape the interior of the crater. The following observations were made: a) the crater lake disappeared, b) three new craters appeared at the foot of the main crater's E wall, c) most of the fumarolic emissions came from these new craters, d) the number of small fumarolic vents has increased in the older inner crater, and e) several fumarolic vents were observed in the S and E walls of the main crater."

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: Carlos Valdes-Gonzalez, Guillermo Gonzalez-Pomposo, and A. Arciniega-Ceballos, Departamento de Sismologia y Volcanologia, Instituto de Geofisica, UNAM, Ciudad Universitaria 04510 D.F., Mexico.