Mexico’s Popocatépetl volcano, known to locals as “El Popo,” started billowing clouds of ash after a series of explosions this week.
Contrary to the common images of a volcano spewing forth molten lava, El Popo typically explodes since awakening in 1994, casting out hot rocks as well as clouds of ash and toxic gas, according to the Los Angeles Times.
It is indeed these clouds of ash and toxic gas that are currently causing the greatest concern. The 17,797-foot volcano looms close to the eastern outskirts of Mexico City, just 45 miles away.
A team of 13 scientists supported by a network of seismological monitoring stations and an array of sensors, cameras, and other advanced equipment is monitoring El Popo 24 hours a day. The hope is to issue a warning to the city of 22 million people if an ash cloud were to roll its way.
Alongside carrying some health concerns, such as irritation to the lungs, eyes, and skin, ash clouds can cause poor visibility conditions for aircraft and vehicles. Moreover, surfaces might become slippery, and with heavy accumulation, structures might collapse while plant life might be smothered.
Projecting where ash might be blown is a complex operation. In the case of El Popo, this involves not only taking measurements of trembling within its crater to predict when emissions are on the way but also keeping up-to-date on wind patterns to know where they might go.
The Mexican disaster agency Centro Nacional de Prevencion de Desastres (CENAPRED) has issued a warning that residents should stay just under 8 miles away from the volcano.
The schools in 11 nearby villages have canceled school in response to the ongoing event, per the LA Times.
From May 9-16, between 127 and 281 gas, steam, and ash emissions have been logged daily from El Popo.
CENAPRED reported 168 emissions within 24 hours on May 19.
The volcano warning system still qualifies El Popo as yellow, meaning be on alert. Green means safe, while red is for danger.
Mexico is home to 36 volcanoes, according to the Smithsonian Institute’s Global Volcanism Project. El Popo is the most active among them, followed by Colima, which erupted in 2019.
Other volcanic ranges around the world have seen flare-ups recently. As The Dallas Express reported, both Mauna Loa and Mount Kīlauea in Hawaii have erupted in the past year.