Mexico's 'smoking mountain' lives up to its name

Mexican officials have raised the alert level for the volcano, Popocatépetl, as it spews ash and steam into the air and onto nearby communities.

REUTERS/Imelda Medina
A farmer works his land as the Popocatepetl volcano spews a cloud of ash and steam high into the air in San Nicolas de los Ranchos, on the outskirts of Puebla. In response to the volcano's activity, officials raised the alert level, prompting school closings and the readying of emergency shelters.

Mexico's Popocatépetl, North America's second largest volcano, is acting up.

Beginning Monday, red-hot rock, ash, and steam have begun spewing from the volcano a half-mile into the sky. In response, Mexico's National Disaster Prevention Centre raised their alert level to stage five (out of seven).  Several schools have closed and local officials have readied emergency shelters.

Popocatépetl belongs to the group of stratovolcanos, otherwise known as composite volcanoes, which also includes the likes of Mount Shasta in California and Mount St. Helens in Washington.

In general, stratovolcanos are large, steep-sided, symmetrical cones composed of "alternating layers of lava flows, volcanic ash, cinders, blocks, and bombs," according to the US Geologic Survey.

Popocatépetl is 17,900-feet tall, glacier-clad and contains a steep-walled, 800-1,500-foot-deep crater. Its name means "smoking mountain" in Nahuatl, the region's indigenous language.

Hazards created by volcanic activity like this may include ash, lahars, and pyroclastic flows. Lahars are mudflows created by water mixing with volcanic materials like ash, while pyroclastic flows are caused by superheated gas combined with rock. Pyroclastic flows are relatively rare at Popocatépetl, however.

More than 30 million people live within view of the volcano. It sits about 40 miles southeast of Mexico City, and is visible from the capital on a clear day. 

During the last major eruption of Popocatépetl in 2000, more than 50,000 people were evacuated.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.