The lava that emerges from the volcanic eruption of La Palma and that falls into the sea since the night of this Tuesday has created a “huge delta” approximately half a kilometer wide while the ocean around it has changed color due to the effects of the volcanic material.
La Palma volcano lava reaches the sea
Eugenio Fraile, from the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO), explains from the Ramón Margalef ship, which is one kilometer away from the wash, that the lava falls quietly into the sea.
Only at the moment of contact between the volcanic material and the sea do small gas clouds form, which are transported by the wind, but which are quickly diluted, explains the scientist, head of the IEO mission in La Palma.
What is abundant is the ash that is falling and that has forced the investigation instruments available to this ship to be covered. Fraile explained that there has also been a discoloration of the ocean and areas in turquoise and other brown are united, especially in the area near the lava.
He recalled that this phenomenon could already be observed ten years ago in the undersea volcanic eruption of the island of El Hierro, in which the sea was stained in various colors until the magma came out.
The scientist explains that a small collapse has also occurred in the area of the cliffs where the lava has fallen. He is pleased that before the lava fell into the sea, they were able to carry out a bathymetry of the “zero point” in which the volcanic material now accumulates in the form of an open fan.
A chemical, biological and microbiological analysis has been made of the collected samples, which will be compared with what is obtained “from point one” and it will be known how the ocean behaves in the face of a phenomenon like this.
In his opinion, this volcanic eruption is an environmental but also social tragedy on the island of La Palma and he comments that the scientists and the crew of the Ramón Margalef are devastated by the consequences of this volcanic process.
However, they are convinced that the only way to help is “doing science” and getting the biggest scientific clues about how this eruption behaves.
Fraile indicates that “yes or yes” in the Canary Islands a volcanic eruption will be experienced again and science can help to minimize its effects and recalls that there have been recent experiences such as the eruption of Teneguía, on La Palma, 50 years ago or the from the underwater volcano of El Hierro, ten years ago.
The current eruption is an opportunity to learn about “one more piece of the puzzle” of these natural processes and to have more precise instruments “to anticipate their effects,” said the researcher.
When the lava touched the sea this Tuesday, at around 11:00 p.m. (Canary time), there was a brutal thermal shock between the magma river, at about 1,000 degrees Celsius, and the ocean, at about 20. Because of this, the water it is evaporating, forming a toxic cloud that contains substances that are harmful to people, such as sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid or hydrofluoric acid. The professor in toxicology at the University of La Laguna Arturo Hardisson warned this Wednesday that the gases that are being emitted “do not have a striking odor, so they do not warn and can burn the lungs.” The expert called on the population to stay one or two kilometers away from the coast of Tazacorte and asked that, in the case of needing to approach the area, the surgical mask should be impregnated with bicarbonate, in addition to wearing protective glasses, a hat, closed shoes and long shirt and pants.
Among the effects of the toxic cloud, Hardisson warned that inhaling these gases can cause serious irritation, especially in the eyes. He explained that these acids in the air can “burn the lungs and cause death.” In addition, if it comes into contact with the skin, he said, “gases can cause cardiopulmonary arrest.”
For these reasons, the Cabildo de La Palma has recommended this Wednesday to the residents of the confined neighborhoods (San Borondón, Marina Alta, Marina Baja and La Condesa) that they do not leave their houses and that they stay outside the exclusion zone, adding that access to evacuated areas will not be allowed.
In its social networks, the island palm corporation has also indicated that the irrigation operation for farmers with farms in Puerto Naos, El Remo and Las Hoyas is paralyzed.
Effects on marine flora and fauna
The fall of the lava from the new volcano of La Palma into the sea will initially negatively affect the marine flora and fauna, but in the long run its impact will be enriching, and the gases that are emitted in contact with sea water are not a danger, said this Wednesday the CSIC volcanologist Joan Martín.
Joan Martí has indicated that the normal thing is that, as happened with the underwater eruption that occurred in El Hierro in 2011, the entry of lava into the marine ecosystem causes a significant and negative effect, since material at a very high temperature is introduced.
Chemical elements that are not in balance are also introduced into the system, so the immediate impact will be negative, but, in the long run, the ecosystem will reproduce and enrich much more than it was, Martí pointed out.
Therefore, the consequences in the medium and long term will be positive, as it has been in El Hierro, he added.