La Palma eruption: River of lava flows down hillside
A landslide caused by an eruption from the La Palma volcano could wipe millions out in Europe and send waves gushing across the Atlantic, researchers warned.
It comes as thousands of people were evacuated this week after wildfires broke out in the Canary Islands destination.
Soaring temperatures on the Spanish island sparked the fires, which have so far destroyed at least 20 houses and 11,300 acres of land.
Changes to the climate have thrown La Palma into the deep end of extreme weather fronts, with far less rainfall than usual in recent years.
It is also home to the Cumbre Vieja, an active volcano ridge on the edge of the islands, which in 2021 erupted for almost 3 months.
Cumbre Vieja has a long history of volcanic history, having erupted eight times since the Spanish began keeping records in the 15th century. More are likely to have happened before.
READ MORE Huge 30,000ft ash cloud spewing from volcano prompts red eruption warning
An eruption brings not only the risk of Laval flows and ash but landslides, too.
Newly created islands like La Palma are particularly vulnerable to fast-flowing landslides, something which was explored during Naked Science’s documentary on natural disasters.
“A slide from this mountain could kill millions of people in Europe and along America’s eastern seaboard,” the programme’s narrator noted.
In the grand scheme of geology, La Palma is relatively young, barely past its four millionth birthday. It was created in the last stage of what geologists call the “rock cycle”.
Multiple eruptions in this time have built steep-sided cones with surrounding layers of thick ash and great hills of residue that appear ready to tip over.
Geologist Bill Mcguire of University College London (UCL) believes that gas pressures could build up in a future eruption. They would, he said, crack open the island along the fault line that straddles La Palma.
He and others have tracked the fault line for at least nine miles. They think that it is so long that if it were to crack open, some five hundred billion tonnes of rock will slide thousands of feet down into the ocean.
He told the documentary: “It’s going to go in a future eruption, there’s no doubt about that.
“The problem is eruptions occur sometimes every 20 years, sometimes every 200 years.”
According to his research, the slide would reach a speed of more than 220 miles per hour.
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He added: “It would be hurtling down the slope of the volcano; it would start to break up into smaller pieces into the ocean.
“By then it would already have displaced something like half a mile of water which would be towering above your head, and that would probably be the last thing you’d ever see.”
This impact on the ocean would create a dome of water almost 3,000 feet high, and would later form an “Oceanside tsunami”. “[It would be] at least as devastating as those that struck the Indian Ocean,” he said.
The energy pumped into the ocean would create what one scientist described as a “megatsunami”, forcing waves out in all directions.
Analysis and predictive models created by computers suggest these waves could race up to 4,000 miles towards the eastern seaboard of the US.
The waves would naturally lose some of their power before reaching mainland US, but as Mr McGuire explained: “They would travel all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to the east coast of North America.
“But the water itself won’t move all the way across, the individual particles in the water would transmit the energy to one another.”
A huge wall of water would present itself as the water particles harnessed the landslides’ energy, eventually smashing into the eastern coastline of the US.
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