Spain’s La Palma Volcano Continues to Erupt and Spew Ash

An image of the La Palma volcano erupting. A fountain of lava is seen spewing from the mountain.
The island’s volcano has entered its sixth week of eruption and shows no signs of stopping. As seismic activity continues to increase, La Palma could be hit with an earthquake measuring a six on the Richter magnitude scale. Associated Press/Europa Press

In late September, the Cumbre Vieja volcano on Spain’s La Palma Island erupted into a fury of red-hot lava and ash. For two weeks after the initial eruption, lava singed through farmland, roads, and homes on the southwestern part of the island, reports NASA’s Earth Observatory.  

The volcano is currently still active and has continued to inflict chaos and pose a threat to the archipelago. After scorching more than 2,000 acres of land, including residential areas, thousands of people had to flee, CBS News reports. Those who have stayed on the island are at risk for earthquakes, lava flows, acid rain, toxic gases, and ash. La Palma has been erupting for more than six weeks and still shows no signs of stopping. As seismic activity continues to increase, La Palma could be hit with an earthquake measuring a six on the Richter magnitude scale, report Guillermo Vega and Ana Torres Menárguez for El País. Just one week ago, a sixth lava vent opened up, and part of the volcano’s cone collapsed, causing more magma to overflow.

Scientists captured various photos of the volcano’s superheated plumes of ash and gases called an eruption column. A photo taken by NASA on October 1 shows a bullseye-shaped cloud of ash around the volcano. More Recently, ash plumes have spread across the Atlantic Ocean. The European Space Agency released an image that shows how far the plume has spread since the volcano began erupting. When the volcano, located on the Canary Islands began erupting, plumes of sulfur dioxide traveled towards northern African and southern Europe, eventually hitting some parts of north and western Europe, reports Molly Taft for Gizmodo. A shift in the wind changed the direction of the plume in early October and is now traveling 5,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean and over the Caribbean. It’s possible change in the winds dampened the Atlantic’s hurricane season, but more data is needed to confirm this hypothesis, per Gizmodo.

Spain's La Palma Volcano Continues to Erupt and Spew Ash
Since the La Palma Volcano’s initial eruption, reseachers at the Copernicus Atmopshere Monitoring Service have tracked the impact of the volcano’s large plumes of sulfur dioxide on the atmosphere.     Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service/ECMWF

“In general, the sulphates from volcanic ash (or from wildfires) would help promote cloud development in convective systems, such as hurricanes, as they serve as seeds for cloud droplets,” Dustin Grogan and environmental sciences expert at the University of Albany told Gizmodo. “There are, however, several studies that have investigated aerosol effects on hurricanes associated with dust, originating from the Saharan Desert.”

La Palma’s volcanic eruption has also affected the island’s economy. Half of La Palma’s economy depends on its fruit exports. However, the volcanic heat and ash have ruined the island’s crops, reports CBS News. La Palma’s pristine salt flats located on the island’s south end have turned black due to volcanic ash. The site is one of the island’s most visited tourist locations, Silvio Castellanos and Juan Medina reports for Reuters.

“When the ash fell we were about to collect the salt, but it completely covered everything creating a crust on top, and we cannot separate the salt from the ash. It has completely penetrated the grain. It’s impossible to separate,” Andres Hernandez, the manager of salt flats Salinas de Teneguia to Reuters. A total of 220 tons of salt is unsalvageable.

Despite the eruption displacing island residents, tourists are flocking to La Palma to capture a glimpse of the volcanic fury. However, individuals who live on La Palma are frustrated with the influx of tourists when so many people had to evacuate and had their homes destroyed. Some hotels are completely shut down and only accommodating locals who needed to evacuate, per El País.  

“They are coming with the simple aim of seeing the volcano,” Pablo Gonzáles, a hotel manager at Ashotel on the Canary Islands, explains to El País’s Guillermo Vega. “Now is not the moment for tourism for La Palma, it’s the time to help, and these people are not doing that and are instead occupying beds that could, for example, be used by the security forces.”

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