Scientists predict months of ash from Popocatépetl but say major eruption is unlikely (2023)

There is a giant roaring under the earth of central Mexico. The Popocatépetl volcano has been active since 1994 but over the past few days alarm bells have been ringing due to its increasing activity: hundreds of explosions across more than 40 uninterrupted hours. Around 7,000 military personnel have been mobilized in the states of Puebla, Morelos, and the State of Mexico in case it is necessary to evacuate the populations living near the volcano. School classes have been suspended in 40 municipalities and a security perimeter of 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) around the volcano has been established. Scientists, however, have called for calm: this episode is not unique, experts have stated, similar events have taken place many times before and recent history suggests the volcano will stabilize — without a dramatic eruption — at a high level of activity and ash emission. “It is likely that in the coming months there will be many episodes like the one we are seeing now,” notes volcanologist Robin Campion. “It is a continuous gas leak that generates a lot of noise and carries with it incandescent fragments and ash,” he tells EL PAÍS.

Campion has spent three days in the Paso de Cortés, the gap between the Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl volcanoes, monitoring the situation. His eyes are sore, his nose a little red. The ash emission is not innocuous. On Tuesday night he will set out again, aiming to get four kilometers closer to the volcano, inside the restricted area. “What stands out most is the duration of the episode, 40 hours non-stop. It is an anomalous episode because of its length and the constant production of ash for so long,” he says.

This ash is now falling over the state of Puebla and has forced the closure of the Hermanos Serdán airport, but the next winds are headed in the direction of Mexico City, where on Saturday chaos broke out at the already saturated Benito Juárez International Airport due to the closure of runways for a few hours. “The probability of ash reaching Mexico City is very high. We know that during the winter the ashes go towards Puebla, but from May onwards, in June and July, it will go toward Mexico City,” researcher Ana Lillian Martín said during a conference organized by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

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The volcanology expert explains that the ashes irritate the respiratory tract and eyes, and can also cause itchy skin. When they come into contact with water, they create a muddy paste that is very difficult to get rid of. They also make visibility poor and can get into airplane engines and damage car windshields, as well as affecting cell phone telecommunications. As such, the National Center for Prevention of Disasters (CENAPRED) has recommended people remain indoors, cover doors and windows, wear a mask and goggles if they need to go outside and avoid driving.

How long the situation will last remains unclear. “We do not have a crystal ball to answer that,” says Campion, who points out that it is difficult to make accurate forecasts in the three timeframes that are in play: it is unknown how long the volcanic episode will last - it could be days - or when the most intense period that is currently underway will end - it could be months - or when a volcano that has been active for three decades could become dormant again, something that may not occur for years. “There are many things that we have no way of forecasting with respect to the volcano,” Campion explains. “Quantifying is important, because it allows us to compare the current activity with previous episodes: it is like measuring a river and its floods.”

Scientists predict months of ash from Popocatépetl but say major eruption is unlikely (1)

“What we are witnessing in geological and volcanic terms is something small”

Times when talking about volcanoes do not correspond to any human equivalent. It helps to imagine them as large machines that accumulate energy and then release it. For example, explains researcher Servando de la Cruz, Popocatépetl violently erupted 23,000 years ago, and again 14,000 years ago. Another huge eruption took place in the year 800 A.D. “These very violent episodes occur very far apart in time. The other type of activity is one of smaller cycles, easier to manage by the volcano, as was the case from 1919 to 1927, or from 1994 until now,” says the UNAM expert.

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The Institute of Geophysics considers that the volcano is reactivated every 70 years, remains active for a while then goes back to sleep. For almost three decades, it has had one eye open. In this most recent period of activity there have been many episodes like the one now taking place: in December 1994 and in 2000, a well as in 2012, 2019, and 2020.

The energy peaks being registered have not yet surpassed, for example, those at the turn of the century. “During the period of activity in 2000, 42,000 people were evacuated and 14,000 were forced to go to shelters. We are not in that situation or in that condition,” says researcher Carlos Valdés. Carlos Gutiérrez Martínez, research director of CENAPRED, agrees with this assessment: “The volcano is at least half a million years old. Without wanting to minimize the problem, what we are witnessing in geological and volcanic terms is something small.”

The current picture began to take shape at the end of December, explains Campion. The volcano began to recharge with juvenile magma, which is richer in gases, and gases are the engine of eruptions. The increase was gradual at first. On May 10 at 00:05 a.m., a rumbling sound rattled the windows of the nearest towns, waking residents from their sleep. More explosions were recorded, until, finally, on May 19, the parameters that measure gases, tremor, ash production, and thermal energy production made an accelerated leap. “Everything increased in parallel,” says Campion.

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Since then, it has not stopped. This continuity has led to the lifting of the phase 3 yellow alert. To reach a red alert, the situation would have to get out of control, which does not seem likely at this juncture. “We are prepared to [issue a red alert] if necessary, but everything indicates that the greatest likelihood is the activity will remain more in line with what we have seen in the last 27 years. On previous occasions the same thing has happened and in no instance have we needed to go to higher level of alert,” says De la Cruz.

The current situation at Popocatépetl can be likened to a hospital with a patient in intensive care: there are doctors on the ward 24 hours a day and specialists in different fields observing, analyzing, and making decisions so that everything goes according to plan. Attention is now focused on whether, and how, its energy output decreases. An abrupt drop could mean that there is a plugging of the volcano’s conduit, which would trigger what scientists call an explosive release.

For the time being, experts say it is positive that it is continuing at a “steady stream.” “It means that the conduit system is still open and still releasing energy,” Campion explains. “Over the next few months, it’s all going to depend on the amount of new magma that is entering the system and the ability of the conduit to evacuate the excess pressure that this magma generates. Hopefully it will continue to be fairly constant and moderate and not all of it will be

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There are over 2,000 volcanoes in Mexico, of which 48 are active or potentially active. Almost two-thirds of the country’s population lives on the ground shaped by volcanic activity. Nine million people live in a radius of just 20 kilometers (12 miles) around Popocatépetl and in a 60 km (37 mile) radius that figures rises to 25 million. Being so close to a densely populated area has made Popocatépetl the second-riskiest volcano in the world. Despite spectacular images of the erupting volcano, the rain of ash, and the closure of airports in Mexico City and creating a perfect apocalyptic framework, Campion insists: “We must resist the temptation of catastrophism.”

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FAQs

Can scientists predict when a volcano will erupt? ›

Volcanoes do not work in predictable ways and their eruptions do not follow predictable schedules.

When was Popocatepetl last eruption? ›

10 November 2017 at 7:25 local time, eruption continued. 15 December 2018 at 18:57 local time, the volcano was spewing lava, ash and rock. 22 January 2019 21:06 local time, the volcano was spewing ash up 3 km (9,800 ft) high and incandescent fragments 2 km (1.2 mi) away.

Will the Popocatepetl erupt again? ›

Scientists predict months of ash from Popocatépetl but say major eruption is unlikely.

What are some interesting facts about Popocatepetl? ›

Popocatépetl is the second most active volcano in Mexico. In terms of explosive activity and population threat, it ranks highest in Mexico and North America. One of the 10 most-populated volcanoes in the world, Popocatépetl has around 30 million people living within a 70 kilometre radius of its 5,452-metre summit.

Why is it difficult for scientists to predict volcanic eruptions? ›

It is difficult to gather enough data to find clear patterns in this wide range of volcanic behaviors. Many locations do not have adequate data due to financial constraints, but sometimes we are looking at the wrong signals. For example, some volcanoes have only one seismometer on them.

What is a successful prediction of volcanic eruptions? ›

Scientists monitoring an active volcano will often measure the tilt of the slope and track changes in the rate of swelling. An increased rate of swelling, especially if accompanied by an increase in sulfur dioxide emissions and harmonic tremors is a high probability sign of an impending event.

What would happen if the Popocatepetl erupted? ›

The last such eruption at Popocatepetl was around A.D. 800. The eruption destroyed nearby settlements and culminated in mudflows that blanketed the Puebla Valley. An eruption of this magnitude today would endanger hundreds of thousands of lives.

How long has Popocatepetl been erupting? ›

Popocatepetl has been active for a half-million years. Its last major eruption happened more than a thousand years ago. What is the government doing? Authorities have closed schools in dozens of municipalities across three states, put troops on alert, prepared shelters and checked evacuation routes.

What caused the Popocatepetl volcano to erupt? ›

According to the Center, the eruption was caused by the collapse of Popocatepetl's lava dome. The volcano may be expelling parts dome that had built up within the crater, creating pressure. On May 30, 2001, Popocatepetl exploded for two minutes, shooting hot rocks into the nighttime sky.

Which volcanoes will never erupt in future? ›

Active volcanoes have a recent history of eruptions; they are likely to erupt again. Dormant volcanoes have not erupted for a very long time but may erupt at a future time. Extinct volcanoes are not expected to erupt in the future.

What volcano is unlikely to erupt again? ›

Tonga volcano unlikely to erupt again for decades - volcanologist | Pacific Media Network.

Which volcanoes will never erupt again? ›

Well, at least “extinct” is easy, right? These are volcanoes that will not erupt again.

What are 3 unusual facts about Mexico? ›

Here are 10 surprising facts about Mexico that you may have not known before.
  • Mexico City is slowly sinking. ...
  • Mexico is the birthplace of North American print. ...
  • Kids in Mexico don't get presents on Christmas. ...
  • The world's largest tamale. ...
  • Mexico City is the oldest city in North America. ...
  • There are women-only cars in the subway.
Feb 23, 2023

What does Mount Popocatépetl mean in English? ›

The name Popocatepetl, meaning "Smoking Mountain", was given to the volcano by the Aztecs, and suggests that the volcano has long been active. Popo, as it is often called, is built on an older volcano which adds 12,464 ft (3800 m) to Popocatepetl's elevation.

How many volcanoes are erupting right now? ›

Overall, 49 volcanoes were in continuing eruption status as of 14 April 2023. An eruption marked as "continuing" does not always mean persistent daily activity, but indicates at least intermittent eruptive events without a break of 3 months or more.

How successful are scientists in predicting volcanoes? ›

Since the global forecasting success rate for all volcanoes is ~20%, the forecasting of Mt. Etna is extremely successful.

How soon will Yellowstone erupt? ›

Will the Yellowstone volcano erupt soon? Another caldera-forming eruption is theoretically possible, but it is very unlikely in the next thousand or even 10,000 years. Scientists have also found no indication of an imminent smaller eruption of lava in more than 30 years of monitoring.

What 3 major things do scientists use to predict a volcanic eruption? ›

Notable precursors to an eruption might include:

An increase in the frequency and intensity of felt earthquakes. Noticeable steaming or fumarolic activity and new or enlarged areas of hot ground. Subtle swelling of the ground surface.

Why is it easier to predict a volcanic eruption than an earthquake? ›

Volcanoes: Generally speaking, scientists can predict with a relatively good degree of certainty when a volcano will erupt. This is because most volcanoes follow a regular pattern of increasing seismic activity as the eruption approaches, usually in the form of small earthquakes.

Why is predicting a volcanic eruption so important? ›

The warning time preceding volcanic events typically allows sufficient time for affected communities to implement response plans and mitigation measures.

What volcano is most likely to erupt in the near future? ›

Mauna Loa erupted most recently in 1984, and will erupt again in the future, posing significant risks to people living on the flanks of the volcano.

Has Popocatepetl killed anyone? ›

The Popocatepetl volcano south of Mexico City sent a column of ash into the sky, capping an intense period of seismic activity including two powerful tremors this month that have killed more than 400 people and caused damage of up to $8 billion.

Is Popocatepetl explosive or non explosive? ›

Like Mount Vesuvius in Italy and Mount St. Helens in Washington state, Popocatépetl is a stratovolcano capable of catastrophic, explosive eruptions, the last of which came around the year 800.

What happened when Popocatepetl erupted in 2012? ›

The volcano began emitting a substantial amount of ash on April 12, 2012, and an explosion on April 13 sent volcanic blocks as far as 500 meters (1,640 feet) away from the crater rim. On April 15, an ash plume rose 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles feet) above the crater.

What is the longest erupting volcano? ›

What volcanoes have had the longest eruptions?
VolcanoCountryEruption Months
Santa MariaGuatemala1210
DukonoIndonesia1076
StromboliItaly1070
SangayEcuador919
65 more rows

What is the oldest volcano to erupt? ›

The oldest known lava flows that are still in existence are from a volcano near Inukjuak, Canada. These flows date back about 3.825 billion years. The oldest recorded volcanic eruption is believed to be in a cave drawing in Chauvet, France, which may be as much as 40,000 years old.

What volcano has been erupting for 40 years? ›

For almost 40 years, Mauna Loa has been dormant.

What two plates caused Popocatepetl? ›

Popocatépetl is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the Ring of Fire. The mountain is one of Mexico's most active volcanoes, with 15 recorded eruptions since 1519. The volcano lies on the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, which is the result of the small Cocos Plate subducting beneath the North American Plate.

What is the biggest cause of a volcano? ›

Deep within the Earth it is so hot that some rocks slowly melt and become a thick flowing substance called magma. Since it is lighter than the solid rock around it, magma rises and collects in magma chambers. Eventually, some of the magma pushes through vents and fissures to the Earth's surface.

What is the legend of the Mexican volcano Popocatepetl? ›

Over time, snow covered their bodies forming two enormous volcanoes that would remain together until the end of time. The legend goes on to say that when the warrior Popocatepetl remembers his beloved, his heart – that preserves the fire of eternal passion – shakes and his torch smokes.

Can you wake up a volcano? ›

For a volcano to "wake up," this mush needs to be thoroughly heated by fresh, hot magma rising up from the deep Earth. According to current theory, it would take several hundred or perhaps a thousand years for the heat to distribute through the chamber and make the magma fluid enough to erupt.

What volcano has not stopped erupting? ›

Kīlauea
Age of rock210,000 to 280,000 years old
Mountain typeShield volcano, hotspot volcano
Volcanic arc/beltHawaiian–Emperor seamount chain
Last eruptionSeptember 29, 2021 – March 7, 2023
9 more rows

Can an extinct volcano become active again? ›

So new volcanic activity is not possible now or in the near future. If you wait around several hundred million years, maybe... Remnants of past volcanism are found in most areas of the Earth, even where volcanoes have not erupted in hundreds of millions of years.

What volcano would destroy the world if it erupted? ›

Yellowstone National Park

An eruption at Yellowstone would be beyond anything the human race has ever known. According to a team of experts who wrote a paper on catastrophic geohazards for the European Science Foundation in 2015, it would be "the greatest catastrophe since the dawn of civilization".

Can we stop volcanoes from erupting? ›

Other techniques to control an eruption could include depressurization of the magma chamber or increasing the aperture of the vent to diffuse the energy of an eruption. Drilling at Mt. Unzen, Japan was the first successful penetration of a hot conduit at an active volcano.

Is there a volcano that is always erupting? ›

Lava has been spilling out of Puu Oo crater since 1983, making Kilauea the world's longest continuously erupting volcano. Kilauea is also the youngest of Hawaii's aboveground volcanoes, which have formed over the course of the past 5 million years as the Pacific plate drifts over a hot spot in Earth's mantle.

What is a sleeping volcano called? ›

Dormant → Dormant volcanoes are volcanoes that have not erupted in a long time but are expected to erupt again in the future.

Are there any extinct volcanoes in the US? ›

Mt. Katmai is located in Southern Alaska and its last volcanic activity was reported in 1912. Since then, it has not shown any signs of being active.

What is the huge hole left behind when a volcano collapses? ›

A caldera is a large depression formed when a volcano erupts and collapses.

What's Mexico's real name? ›

The official legal name of the country is 'United Mexican States'. A federal republic organised in three powers: Executive Power, Legislative Power and Judicial Power. It is made up of 32 federal entities, including Mexico City, which constitutes the capital of the country and the three union powers reside.

Was Mexico City built on a lake? ›

The leader of the conquistadors, Hernan Cortés, began the construction of what is now known as Mexico City among the ruins. Lake Texcoco was ultimately drained, and much of Mexico City rests in the lake basin.

What is Mexico's national animal? ›

The Golden Eagle graces many of Mexico's national symbols. If you're into legends and history, the Golden Eagle is for you. It's on the Mexican flag and coat of arms, sitting on a cactus while eating a serpent.

What would happen if Popocatepetl erupted? ›

Such eruptions can cause landslides and start wildfires. Active volcanoes, such as Popocatépetl, are those that recently erupted or are expected to erupt again. In recent days, quantities of magma have been gradually rising through conduits inside the volcano, according to Cenapred.

What is Mexico's most violent volcano called? ›

Booming eruptions, ash everywhere: What life is like under Mexico's most dangerous volcano. Mexico's Popocatépetl volcano erupting on May 23, 2023.

Which volcano is known as mountain of God? ›

Ol Doinyo Lengai—known to the local Maasai people as the “Mountain of God”—is a stratovolcano in Tanzania with unique geological characteristics.

What volcano is erupting right now 2023? ›

2023 Kīlauea Summit Eruption

On January 5, 2023, Kīlauea began to erupt within Halemaʻumaʻu crater and produced one of the most awe-inspiring lava lakes in decades.

How many super volcanoes are in the United States? ›

Three of the seven supervolcanoes in the world are in the U.S.: California: Long Valley Caldera. New Mexico: Valles Caldera. Wyoming: Yellowstone.

Is Mt Rainier going to erupt? ›

Mount Rainier is behaving about as it has over the last half-million years, so all evidence suggests that the volcano will continue to erupt, grow, and collapse. Sources/Usage: Public Domain.

Do scientists know when the next eruption will be what predictions have been made? ›

No one can predict exactly when a volcanic eruption will take place. There are clues, but no one knows exactly when. Sometimes a volcano will erupt when scientists are studying it. Volcanologists have a high fatality rate among scientists because forecasting eruptions is so difficult.

Is it easier to predict volcanic eruptions or earthquakes? ›

Volcanologists try to forecast volcanic eruptions, but this has proven as difficult as predicting an earthquake. Many pieces of evidence can mean that a volcano is about to erupt, but the time and magnitude of the eruption are challenging to pin down.

How can an engineer help us find out when a volcano will erupt? ›

Engineers design and build devices to detect indications of an impending eruption. One sign is a swelling of the mountain as the magma chamber fills. Engineers use tilt meters and surveying techniques to watch and measure this swelling, so that people near the volcano can be safely evacuated in advance of the blast.

Can a volcanic eruption be predicted True False? ›

FALSE - Scientists are not yet able to predict a volcanic eruption with certainty. There are clues that a volcano will erupt such as earthquakes and small eruptions. Scientists can also look at the history of the volcano to guess a period when it will erupt.

Why is volcanic eruption more predictable than an earthquake? ›

Volcanoes: Generally speaking, scientists can predict with a relatively good degree of certainty when a volcano will erupt. This is because most volcanoes follow a regular pattern of increasing seismic activity as the eruption approaches, usually in the form of small earthquakes.

Can we stop a volcano from erupting? ›

Other techniques to control an eruption could include depressurization of the magma chamber or increasing the aperture of the vent to diffuse the energy of an eruption. Drilling at Mt. Unzen, Japan was the first successful penetration of a hot conduit at an active volcano.

Can we predict earthquake? ›

No. Neither the USGS nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake. We do not know how, and we do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future.

Why we can't predict earthquakes? ›

Most earthquakes strike without warning because the faults are stuck – locked up and stationary despite the strain of the moving plates around them, and therefore silent until that rupture begins. Seismologists have not yet found any reliable signal to measure before that initial break.

What states would be affected if Yellowstone erupted? ›

Those parts of the surrounding states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming that are closest to Yellowstone would be affected by pyroclastic flows, while other places in the United States would be impacted by falling ash (the amount of ash would decrease with distance from the eruption site).

Will the Yellowstone volcano erupt in 2023? ›

He explains that the Yellowstone volcano will not erupt anytime soon, noting that there must be enough eruptible magma beneath the surface and enough pressure to cause the magma to ascend, neither of which currently exists. According to Poland, Yellowstone is relatively stable right now.

Where would the safest place be if Yellowstone erupts? ›

A: For the most likely type of volcanic eruption in Yellowstone, everywhere would be safe except in the immediate vicinity of the advancing lava flow. In the highly improbable event of a large catastrophic eruption, the great the distance from the eruptive center, the safer it would be.

Can a volcano erupt more than once? ›

Some small volcanoes only erupt once in their lives, while other volcanoes erupt multiple times. Kilaeua volcano in Hawaii, which has been erupting continuously since 1983, is the world's most active volcano. While some volcanoes erupt at regular intervals, there are always exceptions to the rule.

How hot do volcanoes get? ›

Here are some temperatures recorded at different times and locations: The eruption temperature of Kīlauea lava is about 1,170 degrees Celsius (2,140 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature of the lava in the tubes is about 1,250 degrees Celsius (2,200 degrees Fahrenheit).

Which states are at the greatest risk of volcanic eruptions? ›

The eighteen very highest threat volcanoes are in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. Thirty-nine other volcanoes are high threat, 49 are moderate, 34 are low, and 21 are very low threat.

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