Science & Nature

Canary islanders threatened by poisonous gases from lava pouring into the ocean

Mount Cumbre Vieja continues to erupt as seen from Los Llanos de Aridane on the Canary island of La Palma on Sept. 24, 2021.

Mount Cumbre Vieja continues to erupt as seen from Los Llanos de Aridane on the Canary island of La Palma on Sept. 24, 2021. (Image credit score: Andres Gutierrez/Anadolu Agency through Getty Images)

More than every week after its volcano erupted in a spectacular show of molten lava, islanders on La Palma are threatened by a brand new hazard — the poisonous gases and particles created because the volcanic stream spills into the ocean.

Officials have informed residents on the Spanish island — one of many Canary Islands about 60 miles (100 kilometers) off the coast of West Africa — to seal their doorways and home windows with tape and moist towels to maintain out the doubtless harmful clouds, which may happen when molten lava pours into the ocean.

The lava is actually molten rock and is estimated to be about 2,200 levels Fahrenheit (1,200 levels Celsius); when it’s all of a sudden cooled by seawater it creates dense clouds of “laze” — a mix of lava and haze — that incorporates harmful quantities of hydrochloric acid, volcanologist Robin George Andrews informed the BBC “Obviously, it is not good to breathe in.”

Related: Big blasts: History’s 10 most damaging volcanoes

When the extraordinarily sizzling lava hits the seawater, the warmth causes the water molecules to separate into hydrogen and oxygen ions; the hydrogen then combines with chloride ions dissolved within the seawater to type hydrochloric acid. The vapor from this acid is harmful to inhale. The ensuing clouds of laze additionally comprise fragments of volcanic glass and particles of volcanic ash which are sufficiently small to remain airborne and get into an individual’s lungs.

Although nobody has but been injured by laze from the most recent eruption on La Palma, it may be deadly — in keeping with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), two individuals had been killed in Hawaii in 2000 after they inhaled the acidic steam.

In addition to the hazard of asphyxiation, clouds of laze can irritate pores and skin, eyes and the respiratory tract; and the recent lava mixing with the comparatively chilly seawater can even trigger harmful explosions, the USGS reported.

Lava is pouring out of the volcano on La Palma island.

Lava is pouring out of the volcano on La Palma island. (Image credit score: AcfiPress/NurPhoto through Getty Images)

Volcanic islands

According to geologist José Mangas Viñuela on the University of Las Palmas of Gran Canaria — a metropolis on one other of the Canary Islands — the islands began forming within the Atlantic Ocean greater than 150 million years in the past, probably above a volcanic “plume” or “hotspot” within the Earth’s mantle under the ocean, but in addition probably above one other kind of mantle anomaly, a fracture between tectonic plates, or different causes, Viñuela stated in analysis revealed on the scientific web site MantlePlumes.org

Over time, older islands like Tenerife and Gran Canaria have drifted roughly east of the mantle function that causes the volcanism and are due to this fact much less volcanic at present. But La Palma, within the north-west of the group, is now essentially the most volcanic. 

Eight eruptions of volcanic craters on La Palma’s major mountain vary and volcano — the Cumbre Vieja, that means “Old Peak” — have occurred since data started within the fifteenth century.

The final eruption earlier than this one occurred in 1971, and killed a fisherman who was asphyxiated by fumes — probably laze — when he obtained too near a stream of lava. 

The newest eruption started on Sept. 19 when a crater on Cumbre Vieja belched molten lava; the lava began to stream downhill in streams as much as 2,000 ft (600 meters) vast and reached the ocean on Tuesday (Sept. 28).

A Spanish analysis ship is offshore and monitoring the lava flows from a protected distance.

Continuamos con nuestras labores de investigación a bordo del buque oceanográfico #RamonMargalef @IEOoceanografia @CSIC #LaPalmaeruption #lavaocean pic.twitter.com/keT1Tm5keASeptember 29, 2021

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The BBC reported that three coastal villages had been locked down in anticipation of the lava making contact with the water, however in any other case the authorities on La Palma have downplayed the risk from poisonous gases.

About 85,000 individuals now stay on La Palma; about 6,000 have been evacuated from their houses to maintain them protected in the course of the newest eruption, which has coated greater than 470 acres (190 hectares) of land with lava and destroyed greater than 650 homes.

Originally revealed on Live Science.

Tom Metcalfe is a journalist primarily based in London who writes primarily about science, house, archaeology, the earth, and the oceans. He’s written for the BBC, NBC News, Live Science, National Geographic, Scientific American, Air & Space, and others.

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