Residents of Mexico City and the surrounding area had a bit of a scare Monday afternoon as Popocatepetl, the active volcano just to the southeast of Mexico City, blasted a column of ash over 4 km into the sky in an eruption that, according to RT.com, one resident of the area said was like a 'rocket explosion'.
As the time-lapse video shows, the abrupt explosion sent a shock wave through the surrounding clouds, throwing ash high into the sky and tossing burning fragments that set off several fires on the slopes of the volcano. The cloud of ash was blown to the northwest, possibly reaching parts of southeastern Mexico City.
Authorities with CENAPRED — Mexico's National Center for Prevention of Disasters — have the volcano on alert level 'Yellow, Phase 2', restricting access to within 12 kms of the volcano's crater and limiting access on local roads.
Popocatepetl is a fairly active volcano, going through several major eruptions over the the past 500 years or so, and there have been several incidences of increased activity over the past 20 years. The volcano has been consistently been at CENAPRED's Volcano alert level 'Yellow, Phase 2' for years. The alert was raised up to 'Yellow, Phase 3' on May 12th, 2013, when more activity — eruptions, tremors and smoke — were seen from the volcano, and it remained at that level until June 7th, when it appeared calm down.
Despite this spectacular explosion, the volcano appears quiet again today, and the alert level remains at Yellow, Phase 2.
The last major eruption of Popocatepetl, according to The Smithsonian, happened nearly 1,200 years ago, sometime around March 823 AD. Examining all the evidence from this eruption, scientists gave it a rating of Volcanic Explosivity Index 4, or a bit more descriptively as 'cataclysmic'.
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Volcanoes all around the world are monitored 24/7 for activity, using cameras, satellites and sensors on the ground to detect earthquakes, temperature and gas emissions. Prediction of a volcanic eruption is not easy, as it takes careful monitoring and even more careful recognition of patterns, which can be as individual as the volcanoes themselves. Back in April of this year, scientists examining the eruption of Mount Redoubt, in Alaska, in 2009, reported that the unusually long period of 'pre-eruption activity' of that volcano gave them new insights that may help with predicting future eruptions.
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