Popocatépetl (Popōcatepētl in Nahuatl) is an active stratovolcano, located in the states of Puebla, Mexico, and Morelos, in Central Mexico. The volcano lies in the eastern half of the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt.
Popocatépetl (5,426 m) is the second highest peak in Mexico, after Pico de Orizaba (Citlaltépetl) at 5,636 m. It is linked to the Iztaccihuatl volcano to the north by the high saddle known as the Paso de Cortés.
Popocatepetl is located 70 km southeast of Mexico City, from where it can be regularly seen, depending on atmospheric conditions.
Popocatépetl was one of 3 tall peaks in Mexico to contain glaciers, the others being Iztaccihuatl and Pico de Orizaba. In the 1990s, the Glaciar Norte greatly decreased in size, due to increased volcanic activity.
By early 2001, Popocatépetl’s glaciers had disappeared. Ice still covers the slopes of the volcano, but it no longer shows the characteristic features of glaciers such as crevasses or extensive ice formations.
Lava erupting from Popocatépetl has historically been predominantly andesitic, but it has also erupted large volumes of dacite. Magma produced in the current cycle of activity tends to be a mixture of the two.
- The first ascent of the volcano was made by the expedition of Diego de Ordaz in 1519.
- The 16th-century monasteries on the slopes of the mountain are a World Heritage Site.
- The 1966 Merrie Melodies cartoon Snow Excuse is set on Popocatepetl.
Popocatépetl comes from the Nahuatl words popōca “it smokes” and tepētl “mountain”, meaning “smoking mountain”.
The volcano is also referred to by Mexicans as El Popo. The alternate nickname Don Goyo comes from the mountain’s association in the lore of the region with San Gregorio. Goyo is the short form of Gregorio.
The crater’s walls vary from 600 to 840 m in height.
The generally symmetrical volcano is modified by the sharp-peaked remnant of an earlier volcano.
At least 3 previous major cones were destroyed by gravitational failure during the Pleistocene, producing massive debris-avalanche deposits covering broad areas south of the volcano.
The modern volcano was constructed to the south of the late Pleistocene to Holocene El Fraile cone.
Three major Plinian eruptions (the last occurring around 800 AD) have occurred at Popocatépetl since the mid-Holocene, accompanied by pyroclastic flows and volumetric lahars that engulfed the basins beneath the volcano.
The volcano is about 730,000 years old. The elevation at the peak is 5,450 m. The volcano is cone-shaped with a diameter of 25 km at its base. The crater is elliptical with an orientation northeast-southwest.
Popocatépetl is currently an active volcano after being dormant for about half of the last century. In 1991 the volcano’s activity increased and since 1993 smoke can be seen constantly emanating from the crater.
Popocatépetl has been one of the most active volcanoes in Mexico. Since 1354, 18 eruptions have been recorded. In 1927 a major eruption occurred, thus beginning a period of rest.
Then, on December 21, 1994, after several years of inactivity, the volcano registered an explosion that produced gas and ash that were transported by the prevailing winds more than 25 km away.
Currently, its activity is moderate, but constant, with the emission of fumaroles, composed of gases and water vapor, and sudden and unexpected minor expulsions of ash and volcanic material.
The last violent eruption of the volcano was recorded in December 2000, which, following the predictions of scientists, led to the evacuation of thousands of people in the areas near the volcano.
On December 25, 2005, a new explosion occurred in the volcano’s crater, causing a column of smoke and ash three kilometers high and the expulsion of lava.
On June 3, 2011, Popocatépetl once again emitted large fumaroles without causing damage. On November 20, 2011, a large explosion took place that shook the earth and was heard in the towns near the slopes, but without major alteration.
The volcano registered a fumarole of water vapor and ash on the morning of January 16, 2012, without this representing risks to the population surrounding the colossus.
On April 16, 2012, was raised the volcanic alert traffic light from yellow phase 2 to yellow phase 3 due to the great activity that has been occurring, without it thus far representing a serious danger to society.
At 3:23 on April 30, 2013, the Popocatépetl volcano threw incandescent fragments 800 meters from the crater on the northeast slope, reported the National Center for Disaster Prevention (CENAPRED).
On May 12, 2013, after the strong roar that was felt in the town of Atlixco, the volcanic alert light was changed from yellow phase 2 to phase 3. On June 2, 2013, CENAPRED returned the alert level to yellow phase 2.
On June 17 and 18, the volcano recorded several larger explosive events, recording fumaroles that reached 4 km above the level of the crater and expulsions of incandescent rock that reached the slopes on the South-West side of the colossus.
The alert remained yellow in phase 2.
The volcano became active on July 7, 2013, releasing ash clearly visible in nearby towns. The ash also reached Mexico City, expelling pyroclastic flows and incandescence. The volcanic traffic light turned yellow in phase 3.
The volcano registered an explosion on January 22, 2019, releasing incandescent material and ash. This explosion could be felt in areas surrounding the volcano (areas of the state of Puebla and the State of Mexico).
Once upon a time, in pre-Hispanis times, there were two young people named Itzaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl. Itzaccíhuatl was a beautiful princess from the Tlaxcala, and Popocatépetl was a brave Aztec warrior.
Both lived at a time when Tlaxcala was at war with its cruel enemies, the Aztecs.
Popocatépetl deeply loved Itzaccíhuatl and wanted to marry her. Popocatépetl asked to marry Itzaccíhuatl. The leader agreed but had one condition: Popocatépetl had to return safely from the war to marry her.
So, Popocatépetl went off to battle, leaving Itzaccíhuatl behind, eagerly awaiting his return. However, a jealous rival of Popocatépetl spread false rumors and told Itzaccíhuatl that her beloved had died in the fight.
Heartbroken and deceived, Itzaccíhuatl couldn’t bear the sorrow and passed away.
Soon, Popocatépetl returned from the battle. But upon his arrival, he received the devastating news of the death of his beloved. Overcome with grief, he wandered for days and nights, searching for a way to honor their love.
He decided to build a great tomb beneath the sun, piling up ten hills to create a massive mountain. After completing this monumental task, he took the lifeless body of his princess and placed her on the mountaintop.
He kissed her for the last time and, holding a smoky torch, knelt by her side to watch over her forever.
Since then, they have remained together, facing each other. As time passed, snow covered their bodies, turning them into two enormous volcanoes that stood unchanged until the end of time.
There’s another legend connected to this volcano, and it’s about a friendly nickname given to the mountain by the people living nearby. They call this volcano “Don Goyo,” which is short for Gregorio.
It’s said that from time to time, an elderly man appears in various villages in the area and introduces himself as Don Gregorio or Gregorio Chino. The locals believe that this old man is the embodiment of the volcano.
Locals believe that Don Goyo, the old man, comes to make sure that the people living in the area act with honesty and show respect to the volcano. They believe that if they do so, good luck will come their way.
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