Video of the Week: Mexico’s Popocatépetl Volcano Explodes

Popocatépetl, Mexico’s most active and unruly volcano, is undergoing a bout of acid reflux. Mexico’s National Center for Disaster Prevention (CENAPRED) recorded the fiery explosion that initiated the volcano’s current gassy episode on their live webcam

The eruption launched plumes of ash and smoke 20,000 feet into the air and could be seen from space. No one was injured, although authorities are still warning people to stay away from the grumbling behemoth because of possible falling fragments and ash. The volcano is located approximately 40 miles southeast of Mexico City.

Popocatépetl, otherwise known as “El Popo” by locals, is over 17,000 feet high and is particularly grumpy. It erupted as recently as last summer—when it burst twice. It has a collection of small glaciers that have managed to survive its cranky behavior so far, although some have been hit by the recent volcanic activity. 

In the video, all is calm until Popocatépetl spontaneously belches out a fire ball that showers its sides with glowing red shards,followed by a thick, constant flowing stream of black smoke and ash that the volcano spews into the sky for many minutes.

Popocatépetl is a stratovolcano––tall and conical, with very steep sloping sides, and periodically erupts with fiery explosions and thick pyroclastic flows. These slow moving flows cool and harden quickly on a stratovolcano’s sides, which help maintain its cone-shaped profile. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) put up a satellite video clip on their twitter that also captured the eruption from space.

CENAPRED has the current warning level set to “Yellow Phase 2” which means there is no imminent danger, but that people should be wary and keep a distance of approximately 7.5 miles from the volcano. CENAPRED has also counted 248 “exhalations” of water vapor, gas—including sulfur dioxide—and ash since the explosion, and lists some pyroclastic activity, ash fall, and explosive activity of “low to intermediate level” as possible near term scenarios.

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Photo Friday: Shiveluch Volcano Eruption in Siberia

Shiveluch Volcano, a super volcano in Siberia, erupted on Wednesday. The volcano is located in the northernmost portion of the glacier-covered volcano belt in the Russian Far East called the Kamchatka Krai. Although no locals were believed to be impacted by the blast, the Shiveluch eruption spewed ash 10 kilometers into the sky. The ash cloud has reportedly been extended to a length of 100 kilometers, chiefly in the southeastern direction. An “Orange” aviation warning was issued by the Kamchatka Volcanic Response Team. Airlines were advised to change their flight routes as ash particles could stall the aircraft’s engine. The Russian volcano service had also issued volcanic ash advisories since early November. Prior to this event, Shiveluch erupted almost a decade ago in March 2007.


Lava fresh out of the vent (Source: BirGün Gazetesi/Twitter)
Lava fresh out of the vent (Source: BirGün Gazetesi/Twitter).


Ash spewing from the glacier covered Shiveluch Volcano (Source: İhlas Son Dakika / Twitter)
Ash spewing from the glacier covered Klyuchevskoy Volcano (Source: İhlas Son Dakika/Twitter).


Satellite view of the ash cloud (Source: NASA).


The pristine view of the Shiveluch Volcano before its eruption (Source: Uykoal/Instagram)
The pristine view of the Klyuchevskoy Volcano before its eruption (Source: Uykoal/Instagram).

Volcano in Chile Causes Evacuations, Damage

A major eruption of Calbuco,  a volcano in southern  Chile, has melted glacier ice, creating large flood events.

Ash cloud and lightning at Calbuco eruption (source: Ministerio del Trabaho, Chile)
Ash cloud and lightning at Volcano Calbuco  (source: Direccion del Trabajo, Chile)

The eruption on 22 April came as a near-total surprise, since it had been preceded by only two hours of increased seismic activity, according to Chile’s National Service of Geology and Mines. It shot incandescent masses of lava to a distance of over 5 kilometers. Its ash plume reached about 15 miles high, and layers of ash 40 centimeters thick have been deposited over a large area in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, threatening to contaminate water supplies and cause roofs to collapse. Government agencies in Chile placed the region on red alert, the highest warning level, and evacuated over 4000 people from Ensenada and other small towns within 20 kilometers of the volcano. The evacuated people were taken by bus to nearby cities. Officials in Puerto Montt and other cities declared curfews to prevent looting in homes and businesses. Airplane flights in the region were cancelled because of the threat of damage to the planes from ash and from the greatly reduced visibility. A second eruption took place the next day, with an ash cloud of similar height.

Early phase of eruption on 22 April (source: Facebook/Foch Metayer)
Early phase of eruption on 22 April (source: Facebook/Foch Metayer)

There have been contradictory reports about lava flows. Initial accounts mentioning a flow into a lake high on the mountain  have not been confirmed, and they may have just described pyroclastic flows—masses of hot gas and rock. Local sources state that pyroclastic flows have melted glacial ice, causing flooding in the Rio Blanco which has washed away bridges, damaged roads, and trapped individuals who cannot cross the high waters.


The scale of the eruption can be seen in this video:

Calbuco has erupted at least 10 times in the last 200 years, with several eruptions larger than the ones in the last two days. Though the volcano seems quiet at present, it may erupt again in the near future. Villarrica, another glacier-covered volcano in Chile about 290 kilometers to the north-northeast of Calbuco, had erupted earlier this year, but also remains quiet for the moment. As of the time of writing, however, the ash cloud, seen below, continues to cause damage over a large area of Chile and Argentina.

Calbuco ash clouds 23 April 2015
Ash cloud as seen from space, 23 April 2015 (source: NASA/Earth Observatory)


The risk of an exploding glacier is heating up in Iceland

The first fissure that opened on Fimmvörðuháls, as seen from Austurgígar in 2010. (David Karnå/Wikimedia Commons)
The first fissure that opened on Fimmvörðuháls, as seen from Austurgígar in 2010. (David Karnå/Wikimedia Commons)

Will lava soon hit glacier ice, unleashing an explosion that would spew ash and steam high in the atmosphere? The Icelandic Meteorology Office (IMO) thinks that the probability of such an event in their country has increased. Through Saturday 16 August the risk level had been at code green– a “background, non-eruptive state.” The IMO has upgraded the risk twice in the last two days, on Sunday to code yellow, and earlier today, Monday, to code orange, indicating that a “volcano shows heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption.”

The responsibility for monitoring such risks falls to the IMO because sub-glacial volcanic eruptions can create vast plumes of material that reach into the atmosphere. This phenomenon is critical for Iceland because of its location on the paths of many flights between western Europe and the East Coast of the US. When the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in this manner in April 2010, flights were cancelled for six days, affecting ten million passengers. The lava was released under a thick cap of glacier, creating a vast plume of ash and steam that was propelled up to an elevation of 9,000 meters. The resulting cloud, presenting a great threat to airplanes, was carried long distances by the jet stream. It covered Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Britain and the Netherlands, as well as large portions of Finland and Germany, and reached far into Russia. On a more local scale, residents and domestic animals had to remain inside for a number of days, and the rivers in the region were flooded with hot water. The ash-fall covered fields and pastures, creating problems for farmers.

volcano warning orange

The IMO has been monitoring Bárðarbunga, a volcano more than 2000 meters in elevation, located beneath Vatnajökull, the country’s largest glacier. Since early June, they have observed that four GPS stations in the area have shown upward movement in a direction away from the volcano. This movement suggests that a mass of magma (molten rock beneath the earth’s surface) has been expanding upward, closer to the earth’s surface, and displacing the GPS stations.

Ash clouds emminating from volcano blasts are highly dangerous for jet engines. (Aviation Safety Institute)
Ash clouds emminating from volcano blasts are highly dangerous for jet engines. (Aviation Safety Institute)

The IMO have been particularly concerned by what they call a “seismic swarm.” (If you were wondering how to say that in Icelandic, the answer is “skjalftahrina.”) This term, in either language, refers to a cluster of earthquakes. This recent swarm began early Saturday morning and has continued to the present. More than 1400 earthquakes have been recorded, some small, some medium-sized, concentrated near the faults associated with the volcano. These swarms constitute a second line of evidence that an eruption may occur, since such earthquakes can be created by pools of magma as they move upward. The earthquakes in the last 24 hours have been more numerous, more powerful, and closer to the surface—all pointing to an increased likelihood of eruption.

Bardarbunga 17-08-2014 from Atlantsflug – Iceland on Vimeo.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office is monitoring the situation closely. It is coordinating with the local civil defense authority, which has closed roads because of flood risks, and with the International Civil Aviation Organization as well. You can check out a video taken by a brave pilot who flew his plane over the volcano on Sunday. And you can follow this situation at the IMO ( By the way, the Icelandic word for “weather” is easy for English-speakers—it’s “veður,” pronounced “vethur.”

Read a story on GlacierHub about an Icelandic glacier that does not have a volcano under it, but presents other dangers.

Detail of earthquake activity on Monday, August 18 with detail of glacier.
Detail of earthquake activity on Monday, August 18 with detail of glacier.