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Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) — November 2003


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 28, no. 11 (November 2003)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke.

Popocatepetl (Mexico) Relative quiet with no dome growth during August-November

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2003. Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) (Venzke, E., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 28:11. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200311-341090



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The Centro Nacional de Prevención de Desastres (CENAPRED) provided daily reports for Popocatépetl describing the comparatively quiet interval of 1 August-5 December 2003. When the volcano was visible it typically gave off minor gas plumes characterized by statements such as "low fumarolic activity" and "without important emissions." The hazard status remained at Yellow-Phase II.

A series of aerial photos enabled scientists to view the state of the crater floor on 21 July, 25 August, 17 October, and 6 November 2003. All of these failed to disclose the growth of an external lava dome. In addition, some of the reports suggested that the floor of the inner crater had subsided.

On the vast majority of days during the reporting interval there were fewer than 10 exhalations, and on ~45% of these days, four or fewer exhalations. Although some resulting plumes contained ash, the vast majority of exhalations (which are detected seismically) were described as low intensity. In a few cases, particularly in August and on 1 September, exhalations occurred 20-89 times per day and reached moderate intensity. Daily reports on some of those days cited elevated groundwater levels due to recent snow or rainfall (rather than deeper magmatic processes) as the cause of increased exhalations.

The most exhalations were registered during August 2003, a month when six days had 12 or more exhalations. In contrast, during September-November 2003 there were only four days reported to have had more than 10 exhalations. Exhalations exceeded twenty on 2 August (35), 23 August (60), 28 August (89), and 1 September (43). On days when exhalations exceeded twenty, often (though not always) one or more of the plumes contained small amounts of ash. For example, an ash-bearing plume was noted at 0300 on 2 August. On that day low-amplitude tremor registered for about 1 hour. The 60 exhalations on 23 August were described as small to moderate, generating plumes composed of gas and steam. They were thought to be related to intense rains during the preceding days. The 89 exhalations on 28 August 2003 were similarly described as low to moderate and accompanied by small steam and gas emissions. On 28 August at 1330 an eruption occurred that bore a low density of ash. The plume reached a height of about 1,500 m above the crater; it dispersed towards the W with no reported ashfall. This event was accompanied by episodes of high-frequency and low-amplitude tremor.

Tremor frequently went unreported. When mentioned, CENAPRED said it took place for up to approximately 2 hours per day, but in some cases only several minutes per day. Small (M ~2-3) earthquakes were repeatedly noted during the interval, including a few in the last half of August, several in September, two in October, and seven in November. During 1-5 December one such earthquake occurred. During the August-5 December interval the largest earthquake, M 2.9, took place on 5 November 2003.

Several examples can serve to illustrate the reported data on many of these earthquakes, which occurred in vicinity of the volcano at depths of a few kilometers. On 20 August seismometers recorded an M 2 volcano-tectonic earthquake 1 km N of the summit at 4.8 km depth. At 2312 on 7 September there was a M 2.2 volcano-tectonic earthquake 6.5 km SE of the crater. At 2137 on 8 September a M 2.3 volcano-tectonic earthquake 5 km below the crater registered.

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: Angel Gómez Vázquez, Alicia Martinez Bringas, Roberto Quass Weppen, Enrique Guevara Ortiz, Gilberto Castela Pescina, and Javier Ortiz Castro, Centro Nacional de Prevención de Desastres (CENAPRED), Av. Delfín Madrigal No.665, Coyoacan, México D.F. 04360, Mexico (URL: https://www.gob.mx/cenapred/); Servando De la Cruz-Reyna and Carlos Valdez Gonzalez, Instituto de Geofísica, UNAM, Cd. Universitaria, Circuito Institutos, Coyoácan, México D.F. 04510, Mexico (URL: http://www.geofisica.unam.mx/).