Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mexico Raises Popocatepetl Alert Level

One of Mexico's most active volcanoes, Popocatepetl (Smoking Mountain) is showing signs of increased unrest, prompting the local government to raise the alert level to 3 (out of a max of 4), and instituting an exclusion zone of up to 7 miles from the summit. After 40 minutes of volcanic tremor, and some minor exhalations of ash and steam, the volcanoes activity has been steadily increasing over the past couple of days. Popocatepetl's last major eruption in 2000 caused widespread ashfall, but no fatalities.

The volcano, easily seen from Mexico City, is one of Mexico's tallest volcanoes, reaching heights of 17,802 feet at the summit (this does vary as lava domes are made, collapse, and the volcano swells or subsides). It has a long history of explosive eruptions, some of which were plinian in nature (shooting high volumes of ash, lava, and gas high into the atmosphere). The last plinian eruption occurred somewhere around 800AD. The volcano lately has only had short bursts of ash and steam.

The reason for raising the alert level is the amount of time the tremor was sustained. A 40 minute long intense volcanic tremor that was heard and felt by locals means a swift injection of magma into the chamber has probably occurred. This could indicate that "Popo" is gearing up for a large eruption, probably on the scale of its 2000 show. It is still too early to tell if Popo will put on a major eruptive display, or if it will sit and seethe. Incandescence was observed at the summit crater overnight, indicating either a building lava dome, or lava effusion at the summit. This is actually typical of the volcano, which doesn't go long between eruptive episodes, minor or major.

Mexico has suffered several large quakes in the last month, which leads to speculation about the effects of earthquakes on volcanic systems. While the quakes were large, they were actually hundreds of miles away from the actual volcano, so earthquakes affecting this volcanic system from that distance is pretty unlikely.... not impossible, but very unlikely.

1 comment:

  1. Mexico City being so overpopulated and so close to Popocatepetl is a disaster waiting to happen...

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