2021 Cumbre Vieja volcanic eruption

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2021 Cumbre Vieja eruption
LUN 8401.jpg
The eruption seen at night on 20 September 2021
VolcanoCumbre Vieja
Start date19 September 2021[1]
Start time15:12 WEST (14:12 UTC)[2]
End dateOngoing
TypeFissure eruption
Strombolian eruption
LocationLa Palma, Spain
28°36′53.63″N 17°52′7.47″W / 28.6148972°N 17.8687417°W / 28.6148972; -17.8687417Coordinates: 28°36′53.63″N 17°52′7.47″W / 28.6148972°N 17.8687417°W / 28.6148972; -17.8687417
VEI2[3]
Deaths0
Map of 2021 Cumbre Vieja eruption.png

The 2021 Cumbre Vieja eruption is a fissure eruption that started in September 2021 at the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma, one of the Canary Islands. An earthquake swarm started on 11 September before the eruption started on 19 September. It is the first volcanic eruption on the island since the eruption of Teneguía in 1971.[4]

The eruption has caused the evacuation of around 7,000 people, and the lava flow has covered over 670 hectares. The lava flow is about a kilometre (0.6 mile) wide and has reached the sea, destroying more than 1,100 buildings, cutting the coastal highway and forming a new peninsula.[5][6] The town of Todoque was completely destroyed by lava, and La Laguna (a 'barrio' of Los Llanos de Aridane) is threatened by new flows.

When the eruption started and was purely effusive, it had a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 0. With the ashfall that began a week later, the VEI rose to 2.[3]

Previous eruptions[edit]

The Cabeza de Vaca area is northwest of the two 1949 eruptive centers, San Juan and Duraznero. During the 1949 eruption, fault displacements also had westward components with movement down the volcano's flanks.[7]

The last subaerial eruption in Spain, also on La Palma, was the 1971 Teneguía eruption, which asphyxiated a nearby photographer with its fumes.[8] The eruption also caused some property damage to roads, crops, and homes.[9] The last eruption of any kind in the Canaries was the 2011–2012 El Hierro eruption of a submarine volcano.[10]

Earthquake swarm[edit]

An animation of the earthquake swarm from the start until 19 September

An earthquake swarm started under Cumbre Vieja on 11 September 2021. It slowly migrated to the surface, with earthquakes of up to around mbLg magnitude 3.5,[11][12] and more than 22,000 earthquakes were recorded in the space of a week.[13] A yellow warning of potential volcanic activity was issued on 13 September, covering 35,000 people in the municipalities of Los Llanos de Aridane, Fuencaliente, El Paso and Villa de Mazo.[14] At least 40 individuals and some livestock on La Palma were evacuated by authorities due to this warning,[15] although no complete evacuation of the vicinity around the volcano had been declared.[15]

Eruption[edit]

The eruption began at 15:13 local time (14:13 UTC) on 19 September 2021 in a forested area[10][16] called "Cabeza de Vaca",[13] of Montaña Rajada, in the Las Manchas section of the municipality of El Paso.[14][17]

Around 300 people from the local area were evacuated shortly after the eruption,[18] and then a further 700 people (including 500 tourists) were evacuated from the Los Llanos de Aridane coastal region in case the lava flowed to the sea and cut off the main access roads. The total number of evacuees is now estimated to be 5,000 [19] to 10,000.[10][20] The alert level was raised to its highest level—red—due to the eruption.[19]

The eruption takes place from at least five main vents.[21]

On the fourth day, according to the Volcanological Institute of the Canary Islands, the volcano entered a more explosive phase, expelling less volcanic gas.[22]

Lava flow[edit]

Area covered by the lava flow on Monday afternoon 20 September, by Copernicus
Close-up view of the area covered by the lava flow as of 20 September 2021
The eruption on 20 September

As of 7 October, the lava that has flowed from the volcano (on 1 October estimated to be 80 million cubic metres[23]) has destroyed or affected over 1,200 buildings, over 36 kilometres (22 mi) of roads and covered an area of over 480 hectares (1,200 acres), with volcanic ash fall covering over 5,500 hectares (14,000 acres) within the limits of the monitored area, according to estimates from visual and radar satellite data by the Copernicus EMS. No casualties have been reported.[24]

On the afternoon of 19 September, the Emergency Committee of the General Hospital of La Palma suspended all non-urgent surgeries, outpatient consultations and patient visits, with exceptions in the latter case, as a preventive measure to guarantee the hospital's capacity to attend in the event that it was required due to the eruption.[25] The hospital resumed normal operations the following day.[26]

On the morning of 20 September, the Canarian Ministry of Education ordered the suspension of all classes in the schools of the nearby municipalities of El Paso, Los Llanos de Aridane and Tazacorte.[27] That same morning, direct flights to the island of La Gomera were suspended, but were restored a few hours later. The day before, the public company in charge of civil air navigation and civil airports in Spain, ENAIRE, together with Eurocontrol, activated the action procedure for volcanic ash, but assured the public that air traffic over the Canary Islands was not affected.[28]

On 20 September, around two hundred houses have been destroyed by the flow, according to local authorities. No casualties were reported and flights continued into the islands.[10][29][30]

In the early afternoon of 21 September, the lava reached the neighborhood of Todoque, in the municipality of Los Llanos de Aridane, with 1,200 inhabitants. At the end of that day, 185 buildings were destroyed, 400 hectares of arable land were burnt and 5,500 people were evacuated.[31] Los Campitos public school in Los Llanos de Aridane is among those affected, which was destroyed on Monday 20 September.[32]

On 24 September, the eruptive activity intensified, with further ash and volcanic material falling greater distances, forcing firefighters to withdraw from the neighbourhood of Todoque. Two new vents have opened in the side of the main cone, outpouring lava. Authorities have extended the exclusion zone and ordered the evacuation of the neighbourhoods of Tajuya, Tacande de Abajo and Tacande de Arriba in the afternoon. Several civilian airlines have suspended flights to the island due to the ash cloud.[33][34]

On 25 September, Aena, the operator of the La Palma Airport, had suspended all flights due to ash accumulation with cleaning tasks underway. On the same day, a part of the volcano's principal cone had collapsed and a new emissive vent had opened to the west of the principal cone (or possibly a previous one that had reopened). The new lava flow followed the previous path, although slightly widening in area.[35][36]

The church of Saint Pius X in Todoque was demolished by the reinvigorated lava flow on 26 September.

On 26 September, the previously stalled lava flows started again to advance towards the coast, destroying the Todoque neighbourhood church of Saint Pius X and advancing to the sea at a speed of 100 to 200 metres (330 to 660 feet) per hour, mostly on top of the older flow. Meanwhile, the volcano seemed to have entered a more stabilised period after the previous days of more explosive eruptions with a slight fall in seismic activity that took place at deeper depths than before, according to IGN.[37][38]

On 28 September, at around 23:02 local time (22:02 UTC), the lava flow reached the sea at the Beach of Los Guirres, also called New Beach, of the municipality of Tazacorte. The heating of the seawater to a high temperature might produce laze containing emissions of sulfuric, hydrochloric, and hydrofluoric acid into the air.[39] Traces of sulphur dioxide emissions from the volcano had been detected in the upper stratosphere as far north as Scandinavia, but the actual impacts of the SO2 emissions on the weather and air quality were said to be globally negligible so far, mostly due to the emitted amounts and their altitude.[40] Earlier on that day, Spain's government classified the island of La Palma as a disaster zone, due to the steadily increasing property and economic damage caused by the eruption, a move that will trigger emergency subsidies and other support measures.[5]

The course of the lava flow between the eruption location and the sea, seen by Copernicus on 1 October.

The lava flow into the sea created a new lava delta,[41] or fajana.[42] As of 30 September, this was 20 hectares (49 acres) in size and continuing to grow.[41] It was 27.7 hectares (68 acres) by 2 October. The new land is claimed by the Spanish Government.[42]

On 1 October, a new vent opened, the third in addition to the main crater. This emitted two streams of lava that cut the important LP2 highway and threatened more of the populated area of Los Llanos de Aridane.[23] The total amount of lava emitted since the eruption began was by now estimated to be at least 80 million cubic metres.

On 4 October, the main cone of the volcano collapsed, increasing the lava flow.[43]

On 7 October, at 12:17 local time, an earthquake of magnitude 4.3 mbLg was detected on the island at a depth of 35 km. This was the strongest earthquake since the start of the eruption. By the end of the day, the lava had covered 422 hectares of land and the lava delta had grown to cover an area of 38 hectares.[44]

By 8 October, according to the Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service, the lava flow has affected 497 hectares of land and more than 1100 buildings have been destroyed.[45][46]

On 9 October, part of the north face of the volcano collapsed, causing the lava within the crater to spill out. Three new lava streams were formed.[47]

New lava river seen by Copernicus on 10 October.

On 10 October, large chunks of red-hot magma the size of three-storey buildings rolled down and one of the new lava streams reached Callejón de la Gata, an industrial area of Los Llanos de Aridane, and destroyed what was left of the town of Todoque.[48][49]

0n 11 October, the northern side of the volcanic crater collapsed creating a new lava flow which threatened another urban district known as La Laguna.[50]

By 12 October, the lava flow had covered over 595 hectares. A fire at a cement factory and the risk of lava affecting more factories and warehouses in an industrial area led to the confinement of 3,500 people in El Paso and Los Llanos de Aridane, with the northern lava flow around 300 metres from the sea. A magnitude 4.1 earthquake also occurred at a depth of 11 kilometers.[51]

On 13 October, the strongest earthquake since the start of the earthquake storm was felt across the island, with magnitude 4.4 at a depth of 36km.[52]

The northern lava flow entered La Laguna on 14 October, destroying a football pitch and a supermarket, as well as other buildings.[53] By 15 October, further evacuations of regions that might be affected by the lava flow meant that nearly 7,000 people had been displaced, and the lava flow covered over 670 hectares.[54]

A magnitude 4.6 earthquake occurred at 4.41am on 16 October, along with a 4.5 earthquake at 6.07am, both at a depth of 37km below Mazo.[55]

On 17 October, the advance of the lava flows had slowed. There are plans to rescue five dogs who are trapped in a water tank between lava flows, although it was confirmed that one of them has died.[56] The rescue involves a specialist company, and the use of drones that usually transport cargo to ships in Gibraltar.[57] By the evening, though, the lava flows reactivated, and it is expected that a second one of them will reach the sea shortly. Another earthquake of magnitude 4.6 occurred below Mazo.[58] Meanwhile, 4,500 children went back to school again for the first time in 30 days, despite the volcanic eruption and COVID-19, with students from Los Campitos and Todoque relocated to a building in Los Llanos.[59] The lava flows have also impacted industrial structures such as cement plants, which have also caused gas clouds and explosions, and have affected flights at Tenerife North–Ciudad de La Laguna Airport.[60]

Political reactions[edit]

The ash plume seen from Tenerife on 30 September 2021; the Cumbre Vieja ridge can be seen on the left.

Prime Minister of Spain Pedro Sánchez went to the archipelago shortly after the eruption to see the situation on La Palma first-hand, the coordination of the system and the protocols activated, postponing a trip to New York to attend the Seventy-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly.[61]

King Felipe VI called the President of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres, on the afternoon of the eruption to inquire about the situation.[61] The following day during the opening ceremony of the university year in Córdoba, the King sent a message of support to "those who are suffering the evacuation of their homes" and thanked the emergency services for their work.[62] A few days later, he, accompanied by the Queen, traveled to the island.[63][64]

On 19 September, the European Union activated the Copernicus Programme to monitor the eruption and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, via Twitter, announced that "additional support, if necessary," would be made available to the Spanish government.[65]

On 20 September, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Reyes Maroto, declared that the eruption on La Palma could be used as a tourist attraction to lure visitors.[66] Her comments caused widespread criticism, because homes, public buildings and businesses began to be destroyed by the lava flows. Later, due to mounting criticism, including from opposition politicians, Reyes Maroto retracted her words.[66]

The Bishop of Tenerife, Bernardo Álvarez Afonso, offered Mass on 22 September at the Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de las Nieves in La Palma, together with the priests of the island, to pray for the end of the eruption.[67] At the Angelus on Sunday 26 September, Pope Francis expressed his "closeness and solidarity with those affected by the eruption of the volcano on the island of La Palma, in the Canary Islands".[68] The Todoque Church was subsequently destroyed by the lava flow on 26 September.[69]

On 24 September, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced that at the next meeting of the council of ministers, on 28 September, the island will be declared a disaster area, that the government is preparing a reconstruction plan and a set of immediate measures to provide housing for those families whose homes have been destroyed.[70]

Name[edit]

The eruption source is a new vent of the Cumbre Vieja volcano which encompasses the whole southern third of La Palma. The new vent is as yet unnamed. Volcano vents on La Palma have traditionally been either given Guanche names or, more rarely and not in recent times, named after the Saint on whose feast day the eruption began.[71][72][73] An early proposal for a Guanche name for the new vent was Jedey, after a nearby village, but this was not received favourably.[74][71][72] A newer proposal is Tajogaite,[75] after the Guanche name for Montaña Rajada ("Cracked Mountain"), the area directly downhill from the eruption site.[75][71] This name has since gained wider support.[74][71]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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