Eruption Threat Level Increased At Volcano Near Mexican Capital
April 21, 2012

Eruption Threat Level Increased At Volcano Near Mexican Capital

The Popocatepetl volcano located outside of Mexico City has started spewing ash and fragments of glowing, molten rock thousands of feet down its slopes, forcing officials at one of the world's largest cities to increase the volcano's alert level, BBC News and the Associated Press (AP) are reporting.

The volcano, which is also commonly referred to as 'Popo,' has been expelling small amounts of ash on an almost daily basis since entering a round of eruptive activity back in 1994, the AP said. However, a week ago, those eruptions began increasing in size and intensity, leading authorities at Mexico's National Disaster Prevention Center to increase the volcano's warning level to "yellow stage three" (the third highest).

According to the BBC, columns of ash have been shooting from more than 60 different opening in the nearly 18,000-foot volcano, and Popo has been ejecting rock fragments more than half a mile down its sloped. The last major eruption of the volcano, which is located 43 miles southeast of the Mexican capital, occurred in 2000 and forced thousands of nearby residents to flee their homes, the British news organization added.

Approximately 25 million people live within a 60 mile radius of the Popocatepetl volcano, including tens of thousands of people residing in farming villages located along the flanks of the volcano, the Telegraph reported on Saturday.

Authorities in the region fear that the airborne ash could impact the nearby Mexico City airport, and that the capital city itself could be covered in falling ash should a large eruption occur at the volcano, they added. Evacuation plans are being made and shelters established should that occur.

"Scientists have no way of predicting whether how the pressure inside the volcano's magma chamber will be released," the Telegraph reported. "They estimate a 35 million cubic foot chamber of magma is seething about six miles beneath Popocatepetl."

National Disaster Prevention Center Director Roberto Quass compared it to a bottle of champagne, telling the AP, "You could take the cork out quickly and all the gaseous material and liquid rushes out suddenly, or it could also happen slowly“¦ [however] we know that this lava dome, sooner or later, will be destroyed by internal pressure."

Popocatepetl, which is the second-tallest peak in Mexico, has reportedly had 15 major eruptions since it was first observed by the Spanish in 1519, including one in 1947. Experts believe that Popo is an estimated 730,000 years old, and it is home to a series of 16th century monasteries that are recognized as World Heritage Sites.

The volcano, whose name means "Smoking Mountain" in the native Nahuatl language, forced the evacuations of tens of thousands of people and made its largest display in more than 1,200 years back in December 2000. Five years later, an explosion at the volcano send a massive column of ash and smoke nearly two miles into the air.

You can view a live webcam feed of the volcano here.