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Geologic Map
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Generalized Geologic Map of the Conterminous United States
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  The North American Tapestry of Time and Terrain

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Trans-Mexico Volcanic Belt

Geologic map of the Mexican Volcanic Belt

The Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt (TMVB) stretches from the Pacific coast to the Caribbean coast of southern Mexico. Composed of more than 20 volcanoes, some of which are among Mexico's highest peaks, the TMVB seems to be produced by the upwelling of magma from the subduction of the nearby Cocos plate under the North American plate. Some trends of volcanism in the area do not conform to this simplified cause, though, suggesting that the area is much more tectonically complex.


Photograph of volcano erupting.The volcanoes are of great importance because of their potential effects on nearby populations. During eruptions, a destructive event such as a debris flow--an avalanche of hot ash, rock and water--can occur, wiping out anything in its path for many miles. Large debris flow deposits around the volcano Colima in western Mexico suggest that many nearby towns may be in great danger if there is a large eruption, necessitating the formulation, and occasional implementation, of a wide-scale evacuation plan. Popocatépetl, only 55 km east of Mexico City and 45 km west of Puebla is within sight of more than 30 million people. A large eruption would be disastrous, destroying towns, killing huge numbers of people and blocking much transportation in the area, particularly airplane traffic.

Paricutin is another famous volcano in the TMVB. Though not particularly large, its birth, life and death were observed in detail by scientists. Paricutin sprouted in a central Mexico cornfield in 1943 and grew to a height of 360 m (1,200 ft) over 9 years--it reached 330 m (1,100 ft) in the first year alone. The volcano covered nearly 26 square kilometers (10 sq miles) with lava and 256 sq km (100 sq miles) with ash, destroying the nearby town of San Juan Parangaricutiro in the process.