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Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) — June 1998


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 23, no. 6 (June 1998)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Popocatepetl (Mexico) Stable with moderate steam, gas, and occasional ash plumes during June

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1998. Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 23:6. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199806-341090



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Popocatépetl continued to be generally stable at moderate levels of activity through June. Small, short-lived emissions of light steam, gas, and occasional ash produced small plumes rising a few hundred meters above the summit on most days of the month. Mist and cloud sometimes obstructed visibility, but the pervasive smoke from fires in the region as reported in the last few months (BGVN 23:05) was no longer a problem.

Seismic activity was low to moderate. A-type events were recorded on 1, 6, 21, 23, 24, 26, and 29 June. They mainly ranged from M 2.1 to 2.5, except for one on 24 June, which was M 3.1. They were generally located ~5 km below the summit and ~7 km to its SE. Harmonic tremor episodes of 3-5 minutes were recorded on 21 June, and 4 minutes of tremor were recorded on 26 June. Starting at 0935 on 28 June seven minutes of weak low-frequency tremor was followed by 5 hours of similar but shorter events. Several episodes of low-frequency tremor lasting 1-5 minutes occurred the next morning. The large (M 5.7) earthquake, which occurred on the coast of Oaxaca and Chiapas on 7 June, had no detectible effect at Popocatépetl.

Sometime during the last week of May vandals raided Bonsai (PPB), a seismic station on the NE flank in the state of Puebla. They took recording, telemetry, and power-supply equipment. The loss of the station will affect the ability of Centro Nacional de Prevencion de Desastres (CENAPRED) scientists to locate volcano-tectonic events.

In April 1997, a "COSPEC Workshop" took place at Arizona State University. Participants, including scientists from Instituto de Geofísica, UNAM, brought instruments that were adjusted and tuned by Millan Millan (the inventor of COSPEC, a correlation spectrometer used to measure SO2 gas) and Bob Dick (an engineer for Barringer Ltd., the manufacturers of the COSPEC instrument). During tuning of the Instituto de Geofísica COSPEC instrument used to monitor SO2 emissions of Popocatepetl, a problem in the low-concentration calibration cell was found. This cell did not have the concentration given in the manufacturer's specifications, and in fact, its true concentration was far too low. Exchanging cells with another COSPEC and determination of the true concentration of the previously installed cell solved the problem.

The instrument with the incorrect calibration cell had been used in Mexico since June 1996. Thus, the flux measurements carried out between June 1996 and April 1997 were revised and recalculated using a newly determined value for the old low-calibration cell.

Most SO2 fluxes at Popocatepetl volcano are very high and thus, the low-concentration value is not used frequently. Thus, the database did not undergo significant modifications in terms of mean flux. However, some of the largest values were modified (became smaller) for cases where relatively low concentrations prevailed over extremely long distances.

The highest SO2 fluxes measured at Popocatépetl volcano are 50,000 tons/day, and the mean flux for the last four years is nearly 10,000 tons/day. The fluxes determined from 1994 to June 1996, and from April 1997 to present do not need revision because they were obtained with other COSPECs belonging to Arizona State University, Alaska Volcano Observatory, Universidad de Colima, and University of Montreal or because the calculations used the new low-calibration cell. The monitoring of SO2 fluxes at Popocatepetl volcano is routinely carried out 2-3 times a week under collaboration between (CENAPRED) and the Instituto de Geofisica (UNAM).

Preliminary measurements of SO2 values for June show an increase over May. No important ground deformation was recorded. The hazard status remained Yellow and authorities recommended staying beyond 4 km from the 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: Servando de la Cruz-Reyna, Roberto Meli, Roberto Quaas, G. Castelan, F. Castillo-Alanis, J.L. Delgollado, F. Galicia, A. Gómez, A.O. González, G. Juarez M., A. Martínez, A. Montalvo, L. Orozco, and E. Ramos, Centro Nacional de Prevencion de Desastres (CENAPRED), Av. Delfin Madrigal 665, Col. Pedregal de Santo Domingo, Coyoacàn, CP 04360, México D.F., México (URL: http://pyros.igeofcu.unam.mx/popo.eng.html); Hugo Delgado Granados, Instituto de Geofísica, UNAM Circuito Exterior, C.U. Coyoacàn 04510 México, D.F..