Popocatépetl: a song of snow and fire | Volcanology

Dear reader, be aware… the content of this blog may be explosive! As I am writing this, the crater of the Mexican volcano, Popocatépetl, is alight with the glow of the hot lava that is slowly being squeezed out to the surface. Sometimes this happens very calmly, and only a trail of puffs of steam mark the activity.

Smoking Popocatepetl
Smoking Popocatépetl, 24 Jan 2016. © José Arnoldo Rodríguez Carrington via Flickr

But this apparent tranquility can quickly change into something much larger, much more violent, and much more dangerous to the 30 million people living around Popocatépetl. How can the volcano change its behavior so quickly? And what, exactly, does quick even mean in this case? Well, this is what we Volcanologists at the Museum are trying to find out, and that is why we are right now packing our geological hammers, getting ready to take off to Mexico!

Here it is, Popocatépetl, the majestic volcano towering Mexico City at an altitude of 5,426 metres above sea level.


Los volcanes.
A view of Mexico City showing the proximity of Popocatépetl volcano, to the right in the background. © Angélica Portales via Flickr


In 2013 and 2015, we’ve already ventured out to the volcano, and in the next two and a half weeks, we are returning to ‘El Popo’, as its rather jaw-breaking full name is lovingly abbreviated to by the locals.

This time, our group consists of Chiara Petrone (also on Twitter), the Museum’s very own Chief Executive Volcanologist; Frey Fyfe, PhD student at Oxford and veritable Popo connoisseur; and myself, Martin: I have devoted the three years of my PhD at the Museum and Imperial College solely to Popo. Like last time, we will be joined by our Mexican colleagues Hugo and Guillem. As we are preparing for this exciting expedition, so is Popo.

This is a still of a moderate explosion of Popo, one that occurred on 28 January this year – awe-inspiring as it is, this is only a faint glimpse of what this volcano is capable of. It certainly does its job of rising our adrenaline levels to sky-diving heights! And to make things a bit more interesting, snow has been forecast for the next couple of days at Popo.

Alas, you can see that it really looks like it’s going to be an intense trip. If you want to take part in this experience, just pop by our blog, where – barring problems with internet connections – we will be regularly updating you about potential snowstorms and eruptions, the rocks we collect and the holes we dig. Already can’t get enough of Popo? Visit the volcano’s own Twitter account or this webcam for live footage – maybe you can spot five tiny human dots with hammers scrambling the flanks one of these days soon!

4 Replies to “Popocatépetl: a song of snow and fire | Volcanology”

  1. Good luck guys! Looking forward to reading your posts.

  2. Hey! I’m not a volcanologist but I’m a very interested in the activity of the volcano since I was 10 years old I’m a Mexican doctor and I live in Cuernavaca which is very nearby the volcano So if you ever need an ER doctor to tag along with you guys I’ll be trilled thank you so much

    1. Hi Antonio – that’s great to know. We are finished with fieldwork for this year, but next time we climb up the volcano (probably next spring) we will definitely consider your offer!

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