Authorities on La Palma fear the eruption of the volcano Cumbre Vieja

Authorities on La Palma fear the eruption of the volcano Cumbre Vieja
Authorities on La Palma fear the eruption of the volcano Cumbre Vieja

Lots of earthquakes, and they are getting stronger: the government of the Canary Islands has declared the volcano warning level yellow. It is about a mountain with which – wrongly – apocalyptic destruction is associated.

On the Canary Island of La Palma, the authorities are preparing for a possible eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano. Earthquake activity in the past few days showed a “significant change in the activity of the volcano,” reports the Canary Islands Volcanological Institute. The population was called upon to follow the civil protection news carefully.

The regional government of the Canary Islands has activated the special plan for disaster control and emergency preparedness in the event of volcanic risks (Pevolca), which provides for increased monitoring. The warning lights were set to yellow for four locations: Fuencaliente, Los Llanos de Aridane, El Paso and Mazo. There is currently no increased risk for the population. The capital Santa Cruz de La Palma has not been affected so far. Warning level yellow is the second of four warning levels. If it is orange, it is advised not to approach a volcano; if it is red, the eruption has occurred.

The last outbreak was in 1971

On Tuesday after the announcement of the new warning level, there had been the strongest volcanic earthquake in a series of the past few days: it was registered in the morning with a strength of 3.9.

After the last eruption of the volcano in 1971, which left two dead, it was quiet for a long time. Since 2017 there are again swarms of earthquakes on La Palma – now ten. The most recent series since the weekend with more than 400 small quakes is significantly stronger than previous swarms. The quakes also occur at shallower depths, which suggests that the magma is rising. The earlier outbreaks on La Palma were accompanied by stronger tremors.

The Cumbre Vieja is a 14 kilometer long volcanic chain in the south of the island, which reaches almost 2,000 meters above sea level and offers hikers in the national park of the same name a view of the neighboring islands of Tenerife, La Gomera and El Hierro.

Mega-tsunami theory hit the headlines

For years, reports have been causing a stir around the world that a potentially devastating tsunami is threatening from the Cumbre Vieja with waves hundreds of meters high that reach New York at 20 meters. It made headlines as “the most threatening volcano on earth” (“Wiener Zeitung”).

The background to this: at a kilometer-long crack, a flank of the mountain could plunge into the Atlantic. This thesis goes back to a publication by the Benfield Greig Hazard Research Center in London and the University of California at the turn of the millennium. The researchers themselves declared such a catastrophe possible, but also that it could take thousands of years until then.

There is now a broad consensus in science that this scenario is very unlikely – the mountain would have to be significantly higher for it. In addition, the effects of landslides could be weaker than those of seaquakes with large-scale uplifts and subsidence of the seabed. “Nothing is’ with the mega-tsunami of La Palma”, summarized the science journalist Lars Fischer.

However, the local authorities take the volcano seriously: there are also emergency plans for large-scale evacuations in the drawer.

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