Scientists believe an earthquake swarm responsible for more than 230 earthquakes in recent weeks may be a sign that a new volcano is about to form, leading to North America’s newest volcano. Unfortunately, the volcano is developing not far from a very populated area, which could cause trouble for residents and businesses there -not to mention chaos with the climate as possible volcanic gas and ash emissions could impact climate and weather across Mexico, the United States, and beyond.
Between May 1 and June 8, scientists with the Institute of Geophysics at the National Autonomous University (UNAM) say more than 230 earthquakes as part of a swarm have impacted the area near Uruapan, Mexico which is west of Mexico City. Of those 236 quakes, 6 were a magnitude of 4.0 or greater. Prior to May, there were also 300 earthquakes in this same area.
The area isn’t far from the Paricutin Volcano, where a volcano quickly popped-up in the middle of a cornfield in 1943.
While UNAM researchers said there is no current conclusive evidence that a new volcano will appear, they emphasized the need for ongoing scientific monitoring and advised people to remain on heightened alert and follow any recommendations made by local authorities for their safety should a volcano pop up as quickly as it did in 1943.
In the 1943 event, farmer Dionisio Pulido came across the start of a volcano in the middle of his cornfield. It quickly grew, not only overtaking his farm, but much of the local town. The volcano eventually grew to a height of 1,391 feet, burying two towns and damaging three others. Three people were killed during its eruption as lave shot up and out of the rising geologic feature.
The farmer documented the birth of that volcano: “At 4 p.m., I left my wife to set fire to a pile of branches when I noticed that a crack, which was situated on one of the knolls of my farm, had opened . . . and I saw that it was a kind of fissure that had a depth of only half a meter. I set about to ignite the branches again when I felt a thunder, the trees trembled, and I turned to speak to Paula; and it was then I saw how, in the hole, the ground swelled and raised itself 2 or 2.5 meters high, and a kind of smoke or fine dust – grey, like ashes – began to rise up in a portion of the crack that I had not previously seen . . . Immediately more smoke began to rise with a hiss or whistle, loud and continuous; and there was a smell of sulfur.”
By the end of the week, the volcano already rose to 492 feet tall.
If a new volcano were to form, it could create hazardous conditions around the area surrounding Uruapan. But if a significant amount of ash or gas were to escape into the atmosphere from it, it could also tinker with weather and climate on the continent and beyond. Due to all of the threats a new volcano may pose, scientists will continue to monitor the earthquake activity there to see if its a precursor to volcanic formation.