Volcanic activity on the Spanish island of La Palma, the northernmost of the Canary Islands, continues to intensify and the lava field is spreading.
Saturday morning, the lava set four buildings in the village of Callejon de la Gala on fire, according to a Reuters report.
But experts tell Reuters that warnings of a mega-tsunami are baseless, and causing alarm for no reason.
“The ongoing volcanic activity in the Canary Islands is not posing a tsunami risk for the United States or Canada, and the likelihood of it posing a future threat is remote,” Susan Buchanan, director of Public Affairs of the National Weather Service told Reuters via email on Sept. 30.
A Dome Collapses
Overnight and early Saturday morning, the dome of the Cumbre Vieja volcano that has been devastating the beautiful Spanish island of La Palma collapsed, complicating the already convoluted pattern of lava flow.
Total buildings destroyed, according to the Washington Post, now exceeds 1,000. Watch the video here.
Some started raising the possibility that one consequence of this volcanic activity may be another natural disaster: an Atlantic tsunami. But, as we mentioned above, other reports are refuting this claim.
Combre Vieja is spread out over the southern two-thirds of the island, with a spine trending in a north-south direction. Both the ridge and its flanks are pockmarked with craters.
Lava from the flow first reached inhabited areas of the island soon after initial reports of the eruption last month. Five distinct fissures were noted on that first day, and municipal authorities ordered the evacuation of four villages.
In late September, observers said that some of the jets of lava surpassed 500 meters (1,640 feet) with individual “bombs” of lava — football-sized — getting to twice that altitude. Observers noticed that though most of the jets were vertical, sometimes they were oblique to the west. The suggested the presence of closely spaced vents.
On the final day of that month, the eruption opened for itself a new vent, carving a new path to the north of that of the previous flows. By this point, the ash was forcing people over an area of 14,000 acres to wear masks and goggles.
On Oct. 4, the Spanish-language paper el diario reported that the island was suffering enhanced earthquake activity “related to the pipes from where the magma comes out of the depths.” (What is called “lava” aboveground is “magma” while it is still below the surface.)
As Professor David Pyle, a volcanologist at the University of Oxford, has explained: “Magma is generated within Earth’s mantle and below La Palma that magma is probably being generated continuously at depths of 100km or so. Every now and then those magmas will collect and break through, pushing up into the shallow parts of the Earth’s crust.”
Successful mass evacuations have avoided human casualties from the eruption. But the human cost is still high. The evacuations themselves have disrupted lives, the property damages is immense and the ash will constitute a continuing public health threat.
Furthermore (even aside from the hypothetical tsunami) it is impossible to wrap one’s head around the total human cost unless one has some sense of how long this will continue.
The last eruption on La Palma took place in 1971. It lasted three weeks. The present eruption has already reached that length and seems determined to surpass it.
The most recent activity anywhere in the Canary Islands was an underwater eruption off the coast of El Hierro. It happened in 2011 and lasted for five months.
The prime minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, has visited the island three times since the eruption and he has promised that La Palma will be rebuilt. The focus will be first on assisting those families who have lost their homes, then on rebuilding the infrastructure of both the agricultural and the urban environments, and finally on relaunching tourism once the volcanic activity does come to an end.