Photo Courtesy of Associated Press

Cumbre Vieja volcano erupts for over a month; what is happening?

            The Cumbre Vieja volcano located on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands has been erupting since Sept. 19 and continues to erupt resulting in destroyed property around the island. This eruption is the first in 50 years. Many around the world believe that this eruption, given its length, that the world is coming to the “end of times.”

            “This is not the end of times,” said Ryan Currier, Associate Professor of UWG’s Geology Department.  “Compared to other volcanoes, this one is really small. This eruption will have minimal impact and it’s not dangerous.” Currier states that this event is purely nature at work.

            The Cumbre Vieja volcano has become strombolian, which is a type of volcanic eruption. This type of eruption is where there are small blasts of lava and incandescent cinders coming from the volcano. These are mild in nature and are also the smallest form of explosive eruptions. Given the layout of the islands around that of La Palma, it is possible the Cumbre Vieja volcano is over a hotpot in the mantle.

“Volcanologists and researchers noticed a pooling of magma under La Palma,” said Currier. “They knew there was a disturbance in the area.”

When there is a suspicion of an eruption related to hotspots, the youngest volcano is typically the one to create an eruption. The Cumbre Vieja is the youngest in that area of Spain. An example of hotspot related islands would be those of Hawaii. They are a chain of islands that have formed because of the plate tectonic theory. The major difference between the Hawaiian Islands and the Canary Islands is that Hawaii is much calmer when erupting.

“Hawaii’s islands are much gentler than what we are seeing at La Palma,” said Currier. “Hawaii’s volcanoes are also not strombolian like what we are seeing in the Canary Islands.”

The volcano is said to not be as violent as prior eruptions such as that of the Icelandic eruption of the 17th century. The Icelandic volcano eruption caused the entire world to go into a cooling phase, causing droughts and famine around the world. This is entirely because of the amount of sulfur dioxide that went into the atmosphere.

 “Nothing like Iceland will happen in La Palma,” said Currier. “[We would see] a clear change in signal from the volcano before any fear would be present.”

This volcano may not be as violent as others in the past, however it still reaches onto the Volcanic Explosivity Index or VEI. Cumbre Vieja is only a two on a scale maxing out at eight, meaning the volume is far smaller than what would be of Yellowstone.

“[Cumbre Veija] started at a zero on the VIE scale and is now at level two,” said Currier. “As long as you are not directly next to the volcano, you won’t be affected.” 

 The only way the United States would be affected is if wind patterns changed, causing a mixture of ash and sulfur dioxide to be overhead, according to Currier.

“[Cumbre Vieja] is not the longest eruption we have ever seen,” said Currier. “Some erupt for three to 100 years. It is a neat volcano.”



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