Friday, January 28

The La Palma volcano has been preparing for four years: this is how Cumbre Vieja is teaching us to predict volcanic eruptions

October 2017. That was the moment when a small seismic swarm warned that the 50 years of relative calm of the Cumbre Vieja volcano in Palma had come to an end. We didn’t know yet, of course. And we continue without knowing it for the next four years until, in the middle of a huge series of earthquakes, on September 19, 2021 the La Palma volcano erupted destroying more than 400 million euros in infrastructure, burying hundreds of homes and marking the recent history of the island.

These months of eruption have been a reminder of our inability to predict and control volcanoes. Nevertheless, as Marc-Antoine Longpré writes today in the magazine ‘Science’, “With disasters come opportunities.” In this case, “identifying and dissecting the reactivation of Cumbre Vieja, since its inception, after five decades of inactivity, has tremendous value” for that inability to predict and control volcanoes comes to an end little by little.

The seismic tentacles of the eruption

Marc-Antoine Longpre

Obviously, the close monitoring of volcanoes such as the Hawaiian Kilauea or the Italian Etna has allowed us to identify specific patterns to predict future eruptions. What happens is that these volcanoes have an almost permanent activity and what we learn from them cannot be applied to others who have much longer periods of inactivity. Like the one on the Cumbre Vieja ridge.

After the volcano: how and when will we recover what the La Palma eruption has destroyed

That is why the analysis of previous seismic data from the island of La Palma is so interesting (and they have attracted the attention of so many scientists): we have cutting edge technology in a volcanic event that is literally historic. In this sense, the initial analyzes that collects today the magazine ‘Science’ place in October 2017 the first signs of reactivation of the volcano.

The analysis of these four months, of how the swarms were growing in intensity and how they changed until the day of the eruption, will allow us better understand how to prepare a rash. And, of course, how can we prepare for it.

Image | Photograph by Sergio Cima in Stromboli (Italy)