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Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) — December 1998


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 23, no. 12 (December 1998)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Popocatepetl (Mexico) Ash emissions, fires following energetic explosions in December

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1998. Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 23:12. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199812-341090



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Weather clouds obstructed visibility during much of December. Scientists and civil authorities continued to recommend that no one get closer than 7 km from the crater. The hazard status remained Yellow.

At 0140 on 9 December a five-minute series of explosions ejected incandescent fragments over the flanks. These explosions were preceded by tremor and an A-type earthquake of low magnitude. At 0929 on 10 December another explosion ejected rocks onto the E flank (figure 29) and produced an ash column ~4 km high. High-frequency tremor was associated with the emission of gas, steam, and some ash plumes rising several thousand meters. An M 2.7 earthquake, 2 km SW and 11 km beneath the crater, occurred at 1839 on 13 December but did not affect eruptive activity.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 29. Series of images showing the N flank of Popocatépetl from a monitoring camera taken at 0931-0932 on 10 December. Courtesy CENAPRED.

On 15 December the instrument station at Canario, on the N flank, went out of operation due to the intense eruptions of recent weeks. At 1750 on 15 December an explosion lasting one minute ejected incandescent fragments over a radius of 2-3 km. The explosion also produced an ash plume 3-4 km above the summit.

After an explosion at 1847 on 17 December activity fell immediately, with only isolated low-intensity exhalations and periods of high-frequency, low-amplitude tremor. According to field and aeronautical reports, the ash column reached 4-5 km above the crater and slowly dispersed ENE. Glowing fragments that fell on forested and grassy areas produced fires that persisted into the night but did not present hazards for nearby towns.

Following several A-type events, a moderate exhalation occurred at 2010 on 20 December. This event produced ash carried NW before falling over the airport in México City. Flight operations were closed between 2330 and 0115. Several hours of high-frequency, medium-intensity tremor were recorded during 24 December. At 0044 on 31 December an A-type earthquake took place with a magnitude of 3.5 and depth of 12 km under the summit.

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.