The Popocatépetl Volcano is ejecting smoke and ash in Mexico, prompting the United States to issue a volcanic ash advisory from it’s Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) in Camp Springs, Maryland.
Popocatépetl is a stratovolcano located in central Mexico within the states of Puebla, Morelos, and Mexico outside of Mexico City. At 17,702 feet tall, it is the second highest peak in Mexico. The Popocatépetl name comes from the Aztec words for “smoke” and “mountain”. Mexicans affectionately call the towering volcano “El Popo”, shortening the name.
A stratovolcano is a symmetrical volcano with the typical upside-down V shape. Of all of the volcanoes on Earth, stratovolcanoes are considered the most dangerous because they can erupt with little warning, releasing huge amounts of material into neighboring areas and the air. Unlike shield volcanoes like Mauna Loa, which is the world’s largest most active volcano, a stratovolcano like Popocatépetl are more likely to produce explosive eruptions due to gas building up in the viscous magma inside.
The United States, in partnership with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), operates two Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAACs) within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA.) While the Washington VAAC is busy tracking La Soufriere and the tremendous amount of material being ejected into the atmosphere there, the center is also monitoring Popocatépetl for volcanic activity.
According to the Washington VAAC, the volcano is responsible for occasional volcanic ash emissions. Winds are blowing ash to the west of the volcano, also steering it south from there well south west of Popocatépetl. Unless another fresh ash emission episode occurs, the VAAC doesn’t expect the ash threat to persist in the air long.
Volcanic ash can create significant harm to jet engines that fly through them or boat and automobile engines that ingest ash-filled air. Volcanic ash is hard and abrasive, and can quickly cause significant wear to various airplane parts such as propellers, turbo-compressor blades, and even cockpit windows. Because volcanic ash particles have a low melting point, it can melt in the combustion chamber of a jet engine, creating a ceramic or glass-like glaze that then sticks to turbine blades, fuel nozzles, and combustors. A jet engine that ingests just a small amount of ash could suffer from total engine failure. Overheating and engine failure is also possible in cars and trucks since volcanic ash can infiltrate nearly every opening in a vehicle. Ash is also very abrasive; ash caught between windshields and wiper blades will scratch and permanently mark the windshield glass, and windows are susceptible to scratching each time they are raised, lowered, and cleaned.