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Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) — March 1999


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 24, no. 3 (March 1999)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Popocatepetl (Mexico) Intermittent explosions and ash clouds during February and March

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1999. Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 24:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199903-341090



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Frequent low-intensity short-period exhalations, with occasional ash plumes and incandescent ejecta, and periodic low-frequency tremor episodes characterized activity at the volcano during February and March. Due to the possibility of explosions, authorities continued to recommend that no one approach closer than 7 km to the crater. The volcanic alert status remains yellow.

Beginning at 0315 on 2 February a low-frequency tremor fluctuating in amplitude was recorded; it persisted for about 24 hours. During the next few days low-intensity events produced small steam, gas, and light ash emissions. Some high-frequency tremors were recorded on 9 February beginning at 2225 and lasting 14 minutes. Also on 9 February, three tectono-volcanic earthquakes occurred (at 0845, 1151, and 1152) SE of the summit at distances of ~8 km. These ranged from M 2.0 to 2.5. Low-frequency harmonic tremor was recorded on 12, 17, and 21 February. An A-type M 2.8 earthquake occurred at 2000 on 18 February.

Small exhalations preceded by low-frequency, low-amplitude harmonic tremor continued in March. "Pulgas" (small pulsating signals) were recorded; occasionally these preceded explosive events by a few hours. On 1 March small emissions of incandescent fragments were contained within and, later, an ash plume rose 1,000 m above the summit before moving E. Pulgas and low-frequency harmonic tremor of variable amplitude continued intermittently for a few days. The shape of recorded signals suggested a growing lava dome in the crater. During a flight on 4 March to measure CO2 volumes, gas and light ash could be seen emanating from the crater. On 8 March a vertical ash plume rose 5 km above the summit before being blown NE and, at a higher altitude, SW. Light ashfall was recorded E of the volcano.

Good weather on 8 March permitted several close-up images to be taken with the video camera. These images showed the glacier partially covered with ash and several impacts from explosions in December 1998. Small flows of melting snow or ice were seen.

At 1940 on 11 March a moderate explosion ejected incandescent fragments over the N flank. Radar showed an ash plume directed to the NE. At 2211 on 12 March another moderate explosion ejected incandescent fragments over the NE flank to a distance of 500 m. A larger explosion at 0531 on 18 March sent incandescent fragments over the E and SE flanks in a radius of 3 km. Poor weather obscured the summit on 19 March when another large explosion occurred. Ash was initially detected by radar and at 1845 an airplane reported a plume 16 km NE from the crater. The explosion was heard and felt in the town of Amecameca.

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. 1Centro 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/); 2Instituto de Geofisica, UNAM, Coyoacán 04510, México D.F., México.