August 12, 2018: I’ve just read this scientific paper (open-access, freely downloadable from Springer), written by volcanologists in easy-to-understand English, that describes just how difficult it is to manage a potentially violent volcano like Popocatepétl over a long-term “semi-crisis” like the one unfolding there today. Check it out! It really gives you good background on both the volcano and its human setting.
People in central Mexico have always felt a strong personal link with Popocatepétl, which they often call Don Goyo
As we saw last time, when this volcano broke its five-decade silence with a VEI-2 bang in 1994, local people responded with traditional ceremonies; artists were drawn to the event; government officials took emergency measures; and scientists expanded their monitoring networks.
For almost a quarter of a century now, Don Goyo has been on center stage. People have adjusted to it and are moving on with their lives, as people always do after a natural disaster.
But scientists just updated the official hazard map (Spanish) for Popocatépetl, which we’re going to take a look at in this post.
The volcanologists did reassure everybody that there is no sign of any increased or upcoming increase in activity; the volcano is still at a “Yellow, Phase 2” alert level.
Also, to counter popular rumors, they stated in no uncertain terms that Don Goyo is not connected to Guatemala’s Fuego, which recently had a deadly eruption, or to Kilauea, out in Hawaii, with its spectacular lava flows. Each of these three volcanoes has its own plumbing system and exists for different geological reasons.
The problem with Popocatépetl is that, not only in 1994 but also at any point in modern times, this volcano has never shown the levels of violence that the geologic record proves that it is capable of.
And now Don Goyo has 25 million human neighbors, unfamiliar with its historic power and living less than 65 miles (100 km) away from its summit.
Ashfall risk from Popocatépetl
See CENAPRED’s hazard map (Spanish) for details. “Ciudad de México” is Mexico City.
- The dotted line shows the area that would get at least 4 inches (10 cm) of ash if Don Goyo had another eruption as powerful as one about 14,000 years ago.
- Red: In a big eruption, this unfortunate area could get lots of volcanic ash (up to yards/meters in depth) as well as a bombardment of rocks up to a foot (30 cm) in size.
- Orange: Just a little ash would fall here in a small eruption, but up to 3 feet (1 meter) or more in a big one.
- Yellow: This region isn’t at much risk of ashfall in small eruptions at Popocatepétl, but it could get several inches (dozens of centimeters) in a large eruption.
Seismic sensors, deformation monitoring, and gas/hydrothermal studies can pick up signs of such approaching events, especially the big ones.