Logo link to homepage

Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) — December 1996


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 21, no. 12 (December 1996)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Popocatepetl (Mexico) Eruption on 25 December seen by airline pilots in satellite imagery

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1996. Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 21:12. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199612-341090



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Popocatépetl erupted on 25 December 1996 beginning around 1145 as seen in satellite imagery and discussed in pilot reports from American Airlines. Comparison of satellite imagery at 1145 and 1215 suggested that the eruption was not continuous.

About 1145 on 25 December the ash cloud was bounded by the following points: 19.0°N, 98.6°W; 19.2°N, 98.8°W; 19.3°N, 98.6°W; and 19.1°N, 98.4°W. At around that time GOES-8 data indicated that the eruption's ash plume moved N and E while dispersing rather quickly in both infrared and visible imagery. At 1645 that day the ash plume appeared nearly linear. It formed a band ~50 km wide trending WNW-ESE (from 20.2°N, 99.2°W to 19.6°N, 97.1°W) and covering a distance of ~230 km.

The plume from the prior day's eruption was indistinguishable by 26 December, based on GOES-8 infrared imagery. A SIGMET valid during 2300-2400 on 25 December indicated only near-source ash, suggesting that by this time conditions had return to normal. No additional eruptions were seen around that time.

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: NOAA/NESDIS Synoptic Analysis Branch, USA.