2013-06-20: Eruptions from Popocatépetl observed from space

Located about 70 km southeast of Mexico City, Popocatépetl (pronounced poh-poh-kah-TEH-peh-til) is one of Mexico’s most active volcanoes. It reaches an altitude of 5,426 meters above sea level and is permanently covered with ice and snow. Historical records, including Aztec codices, record frequent eruptions from Popocatépetl. The volcano has become quite active during the last 20 years, with frequent venting from fumaroles punctuated by minor steam, gas, and ash emissions, and more or less permanent smoke plume hanging around the volcano.

All these eruptions have been minor. The last major eruption of Popocatépetl occurred in 800 A.D., in which vast amounts of lava and ash from the volcano completely filled many of the surrounding valleys. Since then, there have been at least five moderate eruptions, two of which occurred in the 1900s.

This year (2013) the activity has continued with frequent minor eruptions, the most recent one on 14/15 and 18 June. These eruptions include emissions of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), which the Dutch-Finnish Ozone Monitoring instrument on board of NASA’s Aura satellite is able to measure from space. Figure 1 shows the SO2 plume from the 14/15 June eruption as seen by OMI.
Figure 1
Figure 2 shows several days in 2013 when OMI could track the SO2 plume of eruptions from Popocatépetl. Although none of these eruptions have had serious impacts on the local populations, it is known that under favorable wind conditions SO2 from the volcano contributes to air quality deterioration of nearby Mexico City, affecting 20+ million people.
Figure 2
The 18 June eruption was nicely captured by a webcam

NASA EarthObservatory