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Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico) — 13 December-19 December 2000


Smithsonian / US Geological Survey Weekly Volcanic Activity Report,
13 December-19 December 2000
Managing Editor: Gari Mayberry

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2000. Report on Popocatepetl (Mexico). In: Mayberry, G (ed.), Weekly Volcanic Activity Report, 13 December-19 December 2000. Smithsonian Institution and US Geological Survey.

Weekly Report (13 December-19 December 2000)



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

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

For the first time in 6 years, continuous-fountaining Strombolian-style eruptions of incandescent spatter occurred at Popocatépetl, marking a significant change in eruption behavior. In addition, strong harmonic tremor and high-mass flux rates have occurred. As of the end of the report period, the summit crater contained hot lava, and continuous ash emissions deposited ash in several towns surrounding the volcano. This report is updated weekly but volcanic activity can change rapidly. To obtain more up-to-date volcanic activity reports refer to the CENAPRED website and/or contact their hotline at 01-800-123-5050. In addition, the Washington VAAC website provides detailed accounts of ash-producing volcanic activity.

Since the large exhalation on 12 December sent ash to an altitude of ~10.6 km a.s.l., continuous ash emissions have occurred, with occasional large exhalations of ash reaching a maximum altitude of ~11 km a.s.l. High levels of seismic activity, including harmonic tremor, and other monitoring parameters led officials to raise the Alert Level at the volcano on 16 December from Yellow Phase II to Phase III, thus increasing the high-risk zone from 7 to 10 km. In addition, according to a Reuters article, officials called on ~30,000 residents living within a ~12-km-radius around the volcano to evacuate to 180 refugee centers. On 16 December CENAPRED scientists flew over the volcano and found that a new lava dome had formed in the crater. The Washington VAAC reported that an eruption involving lava began at 1915 on 18 December, sending an ash cloud to an altitude of ~7.3 km a.s.l. In addition, the eruption sent incandescent spatter 1 to 2 km SE of the volcano. CENAPRED reported that during 18 and 19 December a large increase in volcanic activity occurred, consisting mainly of Strombolian ejections. According to a Reuters article, there were concerns that a ~900-km-long glacier on the volcano's western face could be melted by lava and produce lahars. This led officials to extend the high-risk zone to ~20 km. Interior Minister Santiago Creel told a news conference on 19 December, "We are on maximum alert ... because we have to be ready for any possible contingency regarding the glacier." As of 20 December (the end of the report period) continuous ash emissions were occurring and a very large ash cloud covered a large portion of S Mexico, extended E across the southern Gulf of Mexico and to near the N tip of the Yucantan Penninsula.

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.

Sources: Associated Press, Stromboli On-Line, Centro Nacional de Prevencion de Desastres (CENAPRED), Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC), Reuters