August 20, 2019
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Cameras, scientists watch over one of the world's most deadly volcanoes

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Mexico City, Jul 22 (epa-efe).- Popocatepetl, an active stratovolcano located in Central Mexico, is monitored 24/7 by about a dozen experts - using a number of cameras - affiliated with Mexico's National Center for Disaster Prevention (Cenapred).

The laboratory is located south of Mexico City, 60 km (37 mi.) from the country's second-highest peak located in the states of Puebla, Morelos and Mexico.

Ever since "Popo," as the volcano is popularly known, resumed its activity in 1994, Cenapred has been perfecting measurement systems and coordinating with authorities to prevent disasters.

Last week, hundreds of volcanic exhalations of steam and gas emitted ash that covered six nearby municipalities, and the activity was monitored carefully by the lab.

The center receives information from 17 monitoring stations positioned on and near the volcano, which measure its seismic activity and gas emissions, among other things.

Paulino Alonso, deputy director of instrumentation and communications at Cenapred, told EFE that "from 1994 to 2019 the monitoring infrastructure has been improved, making this probably one of the world's best monitored volcanoes."

In addition to the technological improvements, the center shares information with local authorities, the National Seismological System (SSN) and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) with an eye toward coordinating preventive measures - such as closing the capital airport - if strong ash emissions occur.

Once data is gathered, a scientific committee sends out a volcanic alert, the current status of which is "stage 2 yellow."

This alert is issued when "we have the presence of ash emissions, the probability of pyroclastic flows that can create problems for local residents and fragments thrown out onto the slopes," Alonso said.

A "stage 3 yellow" alert, however, would be declared if the ash emissions increase, while a "red" alert would involve the evacuation of nearby towns due to the risk of heavy volcanic explosions.

"Around 25 million people live around Popocatepetl. Because of that and the fact that it has been erupting for almost 25 years, it is considered one of the country's and the world's most dangerous volcanoes," said Ramon Espinasa, a vulcanologist and the deputy director of volcanic risk at Cenapred.

Popocatepetl is the one of five volcanoes around the world that has been regularly active for the past 500,000 years.

It has a crater 1 km (0.6 mi.) in diameter and stands 5,452 meters high (almost 18,000 ft), making it the second-highest volcano in North America, after Pico de Orizaba, also in Mexico.

"It has been relatively calm recently, but from geological studies, we know that this volcano has very large eruptions that produce a lot of destruction around it every 15,000, 20,000 or 30,000 years," Espinasa said.

The towns exposed to the most danger are Santiago Xalitzintla and San Pedro Benito Juarez, two small villages located just 12 km (7.5 mi.) from the crater, where the volcano cordon begins and beyond which trespassing is prohibited.

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