Popocatépetl volcano registers 68 exhalations in 24 hours

Mexico’s National Center for Disaster Prevention (Cenapred) reported that in the last 24 hours, the Popocatépetl volcano registered 68 exhalations accompanied by water vapor, gas and light amounts of ash, as well as four volcanotectonic earthquakes.

Cenapred reported that the Alert Traffic Light is in Phase 2 Yellow, which is why the Popocatépetl could continue with explosive activity of low to intermediate scale, mild to moderate ash rains in nearby populations are expected, as well as possible pyroclastic flows and short range mudflows.

The National Center for Disaster Prevention asked the population not to approach the volcano, and much less the crater, due to the danger involved in the fall of ballistic fragments and indicated that in case of heavy rains should move away from the bottoms of ravines by the danger of landslides and mudflows.

What Will Mexico Do If the Popocatepetl Volcano Erupts?

Volcano expert, Claus Siebe studied with Michael Sheridan, the leading American volcanologist, at Arizona State University, Siebe landed a gig at UNAM, where he still works today, poring over data sets and analyses on Mexico’s 46 volcanoes.

On the clear-sky morning of December 21st, 1994, Claus Siebe was standing at the foot of Popocatépetl, watching as elephantine plumes of black smoke and heaps of pyroclastic flow spewed out of Mexico’s largest active volcano. Siebe stood silently next to a group of mountaineers, all of whom had their heads cocked upward. He’d never witnessed an eruption on this scale before; he was floored. Recalling that day now, nearly 24 years later, Siebe describes a scene of awe and confusion. “Everybody was watching,” Siebe says. “Nobody panicked. We were all just kind of surprised that this was happening.”

For weeks leading up to the eruption, Siebe, a professor of volcanology at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, had been busy reconstructing the eruptive history of Popocatépetl, a volcano that sits between Mexico City and Puebla and their collective 20 million people. Performing geological and gas measurements, Siebe and his team of researchers concluded that Popocatépetl (which translates to “Smoking Mountain” in the Nahuatl language) was now “reactivating.” Four days before Christmas of that year, their hunch was proven correct.

Over the next five years, Siebe and his colleagues would deduce that Popocatépetl’s latest activity was its first in almost 1,000 years. In a 1996 paper in Geology, Siebe found, through hydrocarbon measurements and biometric dating, that the volcano experienced what’s called a Plinian eruption—meaning an eruption that bears structural similarities to Mount Vesuvius’ mythically destructive outburst; so named in honor of Pliny the Younger, the hawk-eyed Roman who witnessed the horror—around 215 B.C.E, and again around 823 C.E. In short, it had experienced its share of Big Ones, as he calls them.

Siebe’s research had estimated the occurrence of a Big One “every millennia or so,” a calculation that, even with advances in monitoring technology, is a scientific shot in the dark. Among the wreckage his modeling predicts: the general devastation of everything in an eight-mile radius.

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