Science

Bright lava flows, smoke from La Palma volcano eruption in new Landsat photos

Bright streaks of lava flow through populated parts of the Spanish island of La Palma on September 26, 2021. (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the US Geological Survey.)

New satellite images of an active volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma capture vivid lava streams descending the coastal mountain range and approaching the Atlantic Ocean.

The eruption began on September 19 from fissures on the western flanks of the Cumbre Vieja crater on La Palma, which is one of Spain’s Canary Islands, located off the northwestern coast of Africa. The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite captured the glowing lava flows sweeping the island in images taken on Sunday (September 26), a week after the eruption.

“After Cumbre Vieja opened and began to erupt on September 19, 2021, a slow-moving basalt lava wall began to make its way through populated parts of one of the Canary Islands,” according to a statement from the Observatory. Earth from NASA. “The lava flows have destroyed almost 400 homes, covered tens of kilometers of roads and consumed farmland on the island of La Palma as they moved up the western flank of the volcanic island into the ocean.”

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Landsat 8 satellite images provide a natural-color view of lava flowing through the communities of El Paraíso and Todoque, along with clouds of white smoke rising from the area. The hot, molten lava spewed out by the eruption glows red in satellite images, while a dark, black crust appears in areas where the lava has cooled on the surface.

Satellite observations on September 26 also captured infrared views of the volcanic eruptions, revealing the hottest parts of the red-hot lava flowing down the crater’s slopes.

Smoke rises from the eruption of the active volcano in the Cumbre Vieja crater on the Spanish island of La Palma on September 26, 2021. (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the US Geological Survey.)

“Many of the white rectangular features near the coast are greenhouses. The dark green areas along the coast are crops, probably banana fields,” according to the statement. “The volcanic column that flows to the northeast contains a mixture of ash, sulfur dioxide and other volcanic gases.”

Volcanic activity briefly decelerated in the early hours of Monday morning (September 27). However, the Cumbre Vieja volcano began expelling lava and smoke again later in the day, and experts from the Canary Islands Institute of Volcanology (INVOLCAN) suggest that the eruption could persist for weeks or months.

Lava flows may soon reach the Atlantic Ocean. The hot lava that meets the sea can trigger explosions and emit clouds of chlorine gas, posing a greater risk to residents of the area. Those along the island’s east coast received the closure order on Monday after thousands of people had already evacuated the area in previous days.

The Cumbre Vieja volcano last erupted in 1971, although that event was less significant than current eruptions, experts say.

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