The island turns into a field laboratory for tech-savvy volcanologists


Rasmanchas of the Canary Islands β€” Comes with an eagle-eye drone and precision equipment. With the help of satellites, they analyze outgassing and molten rock flow. On the ground, it collects everything from the smallest particles to watermelon-sized “lava bombs” that one of the most powerful forces in nature throws as an incandescent projectile.

Scientists from around the world have taken advantage of the eruption of a volcano, just an hour’s drive from the international airport, and the safety of being able to work under military escorts in the Canary Islands of Spain in the Atlantic Ocean. They are flocking to one, La Palma. brigade. They apply state-of-the-art technology to scrutinize rare volcanic eruptions from land, sea, air, and even space.

Like the other 20 major eruptions that occur around the globe, from Hawaii to Indonesia, the ultimate goal of La Palma is to take advantage of unique opportunities to better understand volcanic eruptions. Islanders, how and when they end.

However, despite recent technological and scientific breakthroughs, researchers can only make many estimates of what is happening in the underworld where magma is formed and melts artificial equipment. The deepest part that humans could dig into the crust of the planet is only 7.6 miles, a feat achieved by Soviet scientists in 1989.

“There have been many advances in understanding geological and evolutionary processes over the last 30 or 40 years, but knowing for sure what will happen at a depth of 40-80 km (25-50 miles) is It’s still difficult. ” Pedro Hernandez, an expert at Involcan, the Institute of Volcanology in the Canary Islands.

“We are probably beginning to know more about the stars than what happens at our feet,” he said.

Volcanic eruptions are one or up to two generations of events in the Canary Islands, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Africa. Some of the Canary Islands are still growing by accumulating magma beneath them and forming lava peninsulas across the coastline, as is happening in La Palma.

IGME-CSIC scientists measure lava temperature-Canary Islands
Scientists at IGME-CSIC (Spanish Geological Mining Institute of the Spanish National Research Council) will measure the temperature of lava near the volcano on La Palma Island, Canary Islands, Spain, on November 5, 2021. (Taner Orribo / AP Photo).

The last eruption on the southern island of El Hierro 10 years ago occurred just off the coast, making it more difficult for volcanologists to collect samples. A former land volcano erupted on La Palma Island in 1971. That year, Valentin Troll was born, a rock expert at Uppsala University in Sweden and a co-author of geological research in the archipelago.

“Literally, it’s amazing to see this dynamism in action,” said a geologist. “We are learning a lot about how volcanoes work.”

Still, trying to compare notes to previous eruptions requires digging into records centuries ago from the time when photographs did not exist.

As magma began to deposit deep in the Cumbre Vieja Mountains on La Palma, scientists were measuring surface surges, seismic concentration known as earthquake swarms, and other signs of an imminent eruption. They could not predict the exact time of the eruption, but their assessment led authorities to begin their first evacuation just hours before the September 19th.

In November, one man who fell off the roof while cleaning up volcanic ash died, but no one was directly linked to the eruption.

Many are due to new technologies in volcanology. From drones that allow scientists to peek into volcanic cauldrons to supercomputers that run predictive algorithms.

The European Union’s Copernicus satellite program creates high-resolution images and island mappings to track earthquake-induced deformations and track lava flows and ash accumulation in near real time. The expert was also able to observe that a large plume of the toxic gas sulfur dioxide traveled long distances to North Africa, mainland Europe and even the Caribbean Sea.

At sea, Spanish research vessels are studying the impact of eruptions on marine ecosystems as lava fingers spread across the coast.

The next major leap in volcanology is expected to be the next major leap in volcanology, said Troll, when robot-operated rover, such as that sent to the Moon and Mars, becomes available in volcanoes.

β€œTo build a sustainable society, we need to learn how we can protect our population and growing industries,” he said.

Scientists inspect lava-Canary Islands
Involcan scientists at the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute will examine lava flowing from the Canary Islands volcanoes on La Palma, Spain, on October 30, 2021. (EmilioMorenatti / AP photo)

Despite limited resources, Involcan produces daily reports to help La Palma’s civil protection authorities decide whether to evacuate or issue a blockade when gas concentrations become highly toxic. This means analyzing terabytes of data from both automated detectors in strategic locations and samples collected on field trips.

Most of the work of scientists focuses on predicting how volcanic damage will affect communities that have already lost thousands of homes, farms, roads, irrigation canals and banana crops. .. But the question of when the eruption will end has plagued them.

Hernandez said it would take at least two weeks for soil deformation, sulfur dioxide emissions, and seismic activity to consistently decline to see if volcanic activity is declining.

Esteban Gazel, a geochemist at Cornell University in New York, said the Canary Islands are closely linked to activity to the heart of the Earth, making predictions even more difficult.

“It’s like treating a patient,” he said. “How can I monitor? [the eruption] It evolves, but it’s very difficult to say exactly when you’ll die. “

In La Palma, Gazelle collected the smallest particles for long-distance wind transport as part of a NASA-funded study. This can be the key to minimizing the risk of catastrophic eruptions degrading air quality and affecting climate patterns. He is also running a parallel research program to determine the amount of gas that makes an eruption more or less explosive.

From Costa Rica, who studied the traces of past eruptions, Gazel has also studied at Kilauea, an active volcano in Hawaii. However, he said the eruption of La Palma brought a new dimension to his work due to the different rock composition and easy access to the volcanic exclusion zone.

“The more eruptions we study, the more we will understand how they behave,” he said.

By Aritz Parra and Emilio Morenatti

Associated Press