On Friday, a series of tremors on La Palma heralded the breakthrough of a new lava flow from the island’s volcano. The earthquakes haven’t been extremely strong; authorities on the island have noted that the tremors are registering around magnitude 3.5. The volcano has already been erupting for three weeks, but the most recent developments have added new wrinkles to the ongoing volcanic activity.
The disaster forced thousands of people to evacuate from their homes as the lava flowed toward the ocean. Authorities estimate that nearly 1,200 buildings have been destroyed by the lava flowing over the island. The new lava flow from Cumbre Vieja could potentially threaten other homes on the island.
The tremors on the island shook the volcanic clone on the top of Cumbre Vieja, causing it to collapse. Since its collapse, satellite imagery has shown that even more lava is now pouring forth from the mouth of the volcano, causing the eruption to enter a new phase. Now, multiple lava streams are cascading down, complicating an already fraught situation.
Authorities are keeping a close eye on the new flows, which could join with the existing streams of molten rock. Where the lava flows are meeting the Atlantic Ocean, a peninsula of sorts is forming as the rocks cool swiftly and become volcanic glass. While the new outgrowth is fascinating, marine biologists have warned that the volcanic glass could be extremely harmful to marine life in the region.
Moreover, that volcanic glass could present a serious issue for the residents of the island. When lava meets water, it often releases toxic gasses that can be harmful or even deadly to humans. While authorities on La Palma have stated that the air quality so far seems safe, they’ve still urged residents in the area to wear face masks to protect themselves.
While the eruption has been ongoing, the people of La Palma have mostly continued business as usual. The most notable impacts elsewhere on the island have been the tremors, which continue to shake buildings all over La Palma.
Perhaps the residents of the island aren’t too concerned by the eruption due to the frequency with which Cumbre Vieja spews forth molten rock. The volcano has erupted twice in the past century. The most recent eruption was in 1971, and before that, the volcano was last active in 1949. In those previous eruptions, three deaths were recorded, with two of them being caused by inhalation of toxic gas.