Popocatepetl, a stratovolcano located near Mexico City, has been exhibiting intense ash emissions in recent months. As a result, the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Volcano emphasizes the importance of maintaining precautionary measures and learning to coexist with the volcano, known locally as "Don Goyo." This article provides in-depth analysis and expert insights on the ongoing volcanic activity, the nature of the eruptions, the historical context, and recommended safety measures for the affected population.
The Current Activity and Magma Characteristics:
The recent ash, gas, and magma expulsions from Popocatepetl have led to an upgrade in the alert level from Yellow Phase 2 to Yellow Phase 3 by the National Center for Disaster Prevention (CENAPRED). Robin Campion, a researcher from the Department of Volcanology at the Institute of Geophysics (IGEF) of the UNAM, explains that while the activity continues to increase, it has not yet reached the levels observed between 2012 and 2013.
The magma being ejected by the volcano is classified as juvenile, meaning it is "very hot and rich in gases." This magma serves as the primary driver of the ongoing eruptions. Its high temperature and gas content cause fragmentation, ash production, and subsequent eruptions. These factors contribute to the current activity of Popocatepetl.
Historical Context and Cyclical Nature of the Volcano:
Servando de la Cruz Reyna, another IGEF researcher, notes that the current eruptive event is not an isolated occurrence but part of Popocatepetl's historical behavior. Since 1996, the volcano has witnessed the growth and destruction of 86 domes due to explosions. The available data suggests that the current activity aligns with the volcano's behavior over the past 27 years.
The volcano can be understood as a machine that accumulates energy, releases it through eruptions, and restarts the cycle over time. The ongoing activity represents a shorter period that the volcano can manage relatively easily. The significant emission of magma and gas facilitates the release of older magma, making the current period of activity more manageable, according to the scientists.
Positive Aspects and Coexistence with Volcanoes:
Carlos Valdés González, a researcher at the IGEF, highlights the importance of perceiving volcanoes not only as sources of concern and damage but also recognizing their positive aspects. The region around Popocatepetl, particularly Puebla, benefits from the fertility of volcanic soils and the impact of the volcano's height on weather patterns. The warm and humid clouds mix with colder parts, resulting in condensation and rainfall. Additionally, the volcano plays a crucial role in the formation of the Puebla aquifer. Valdés González stresses the need to coexist with volcanoes and respect their activities, including the current eruption of Popocatepetl.
Precautionary Measures and Safety Recommendations:
Carlos Gutiérrez Martínez, the research director of CENAPRED, assures that protective measures have been implemented for the population, with shelters established in vulnerable communities. The issuance of relevant alerts for air navigation systems will also continue.
The experts at IGEF emphasize specific safety measures to mitigate the effects of volcanic ash:
- Usage of masks to prevent inhalation of ash particles.
- Avoiding the spraying of water on ash, as it forms a mass that can clog drains.
- Clearing ash from roofs and rooftops to prevent collapse due to the weight.
- Wearing a hat and glasses to protect against ash particles.
- Avoiding scratching of eyes, which may become irritated due to ash.
- Covering water containers, doors, and windows to prevent ash ingress.
- Minimizing driving and refraining from activating windshield wipers to prevent the spread of ash residue.
Ana Lillian Martin del Pozzo, a researcher from IGEF, emphasizes the significance of managing health issues associated with volcanic ash. Some individuals may experience irritation in the eyes, respiratory tract, and skin, with reports of burning sensations in the head. The experts advocate for a culture of prevention to minimize health risks.
For those living near Popocatepetl, it is advised to avoid walking near hillsides, particularly during rainfall, as lahars (water currents mixed with ash) may form, posing a danger by sweeping objects in their path.
The ongoing ash emissions from Popocatepetl highlight the need for precautionary measures and coexistence with volcanic activity. Expert insights from the Scientific Advisory Committee provide valuable information on the nature of the eruptions, the historical context, and safety recommendations for the affected population. By adhering to these precautions and promoting a culture of prevention, the risks associated with volcanic ash can be minimized, enabling individuals to live in harmony with the volcanic environment.