Canaries volcano lava reaches sea, raises toxic gas fears

Published September 30, 2021
LAVA flows into the sea following the eruption of a volcano on La Palma island.—Reuters
LAVA flows into the sea following the eruption of a volcano on La Palma island.—Reuters

MADRID: Lava from an erupting volcano in the Canary Islands has reached the ocean, volcanologists said, raising fear of toxic gases being released as the lava hits the sea water.

The regional government of the Spanish archipelago had already declared an exclusion zone of two nautical miles around where the lava was expected to enter the Atlantic and asked nearby residents to stay at home.

“The lava flow has reached the sea at Playa Nueva,” the Canary Islands Volcanic Institute (Involcan) said on Twitter on Tuesday night.

La Cumbre Vieja volcano, which straddles a southern ridge in La Palma, an island with 85,000 inhabitants, erupted on September 19, spewing out rivers of lava that have slowly crept towards the sea.

Residents of several areas of Tazacorte, a village near the coast, were told Monday to stay at home to avoid harm from the release of toxic gases that can take place due to a reaction between molten lava and water.

On Tuesday afternoon, the slow-moving lava flow, which has varied in speed over the past few days, even halting at one point, was still around 800 metres (half a mile) from the coast, making it impossible to predict when it would reach the ocean.

Residents were warned to stay home due to “the possibility that there will be a small shock when the magma enters the sea water, and that this small shock causes vapours which can be toxic,” stressed Miguel Angel Morcuende, technical director of the Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan (Pevolca).

Experts say the entry of lava into the seawater will send clouds of toxic gas into the air, causing explosions and a fragmentation of the molten rock like gunshots.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2021

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