Intense eruption at Popocatepetl, ash to 10 km (32 000 feet) a.s.l., Mexico

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Intense eruptive activity continues at Mexico’s Popocatepetl volcano, with large volcanic ash emissions reaching 9.7 km (32 000 feet) above sea level at 03:36 UTC on May 21, 2023.

Based on an analysis of recent activity, the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Popocatepetl volcano has decided to raise the alert level from Yellow Phase 2 to Yellow Phase 3 on May 21. The decision was made as a precautionary measure in response to observed changes at the volcano.

In 24 hours to 18:00 UTC on May 21, the monitoring systems of the Popocatépetl volcano recorded 31 long-period events (LPs) accompanied by steam, volcanic gases and ash, as well as 1 136 minutes of high-frequency tremor accompanied by the emission of incandescent fragments on the flanks of the volcano. 2 moderate and 4 minor explosions were recorded during the period.

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Image credit: Copernicus EU/Sentinel-2, EO Browser, The Watchers. Acquired on May 21, 2023
popocatepetl volcano eruption may 21 2023 bgz
Image credit: Copernicus EU/Sentinel-2, EO Browser, The Watchers. Acquired on May 21, 2023

On May 20, CENACOM (National Center for Communication and Civil Protection Operations) reported ashfall in the municipalities of Juchitepec, Amecameca, Cocotitlán, Valle de Chalco, Ixtapaluca, La Paz, Nezahualcoyotl, Tlalmanalco and Chalco in the State of Mexico. As well as in Huejotzingo, Nealtican, Chignahuapan, Puebla Capital, San Martín Texmelucan, and San Felipe Teotlalcingo, municipalities of Puebla. On May 21, ashfall was reported in the municipalities of San Andrés Cholula, San Pedro Cholula, Cuautlancingo, Amozoc, Puebla Capital, Zacatlan, Tetela de Ocampo and Chignahuapan, Puebla.

CENAPRED is urging residents and tourists not to climb the volcano (a 12 km / 7.5 miles exclusion zone is in effect) and stay away from the crater due to the hazard caused by ballistic fragments. In the case of heavy rains, residents are urged to stay away from the bottoms of the ravines due to the danger of landslides and debris flows.

In case of ashfall, address the following recommendations:

  • Cover nose and mouth with a handkerchief or face mask.
  • Clean eyes and throat with pure water.
  • Avoid contact lenses to reduce eye irritation.
  • Close windows or cover them up, and stay indoors as much as possible.

The scenarios foreseen for Yellow Phase 3 are:

  1. Explosive activity of low to intermediate level
  2. Ashfall in nearby towns
  3. Possibility of short-range pyroclastic flows and mudflows

Geological summary

Volcán Popocatépetl, whose name is the Aztec word for smoking mountain, rises 70 km (44 miles) SE of Mexico City to form North America’s 2nd-highest volcano. The glacier-clad stratovolcano contains a steep-walled, 400 x 600 m (1 312 x 1 968 feet) 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 from Popocatépetl 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 precolumbian time.


1 Activity report for Popocatépetl volcano – CENAPRED – May 21, 2023

2 Popocatepetl – Geological summary – GVP

Featured image credit: Copernicus EU/Sentinel-2, EO Browser, The Watchers. Acquired on May 21, 2023


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