Lava from the volcano on La Palma creates a huge delta 500 metres wide and discolours the sea

The lava emerging from the volcanic eruption of La Palma and falling into the sea since Tuesday night has created a “huge delta” of about half a kilometer wide while the ocean around it has changed color by the effects of volcanic material.

Lava from the volcano of La Palma reaches the sea

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Eugenio Fraile, from the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO), explains from the ship Ramón Margalef, which is one kilometre away from the lava flow, that the lava falls calmly into the sea.

Only at the moment of contact between the volcanic material and the sea are small clouds of gases formed, which are transported by the wind, but are quickly diluted, explains the scientist, head of the IEO mission in La Palma.

What is abundant is the ash that is falling and has forced to cover the research instruments available to this ship. Fraile explained that there has also been a discoloration of the ocean and turquoise areas and other brown, especially in the area near the lava.

He recalled that this phenomenon could already be observed ten years ago in the underwater volcanic eruption of the island of El Hierro, in which the sea was stained in various colors until the magma outflow ended.

The scientist explains that in the area of the cliffs where the lava has fallen there has also been a small collapse. He is pleased that before the lava fell into the sea they were able to carry out a bathymetry of the “zero point” where the volcanic material now accumulates in the form of an open fan.

A chemical, biological and microbiological analysis of the collected samples has been carried out, which will be used for further analysis.If you compare it with what you get “from point one”, you will know how the ocean behaves in the face of such a phenomenon.

In his opinion, this volcanic eruption is an environmental tragedy but also a social tragedy on the island of La Palma and he comments that the scientists and the crew of the Ramón Margalef are devastated by the consequences of this volcanic process.

However, they are convinced that the only way to help is “doing science” and getting the most scientific clues about how this eruption behaves.

Fraile indicates that “yes or yes” in the Canary Islands will live again a volcanic eruption and science can help to minimize its effects and recalls that there are recent experiences such as the eruption of Teneguía, in La Palma, 50 years ago or the underwater volcano of El Hierro, ten years ago.

The current eruption is an opportunity to learn “one more piece of the puzzle” of these natural processes and to have more precise instruments “to anticipate their effects,” said the researcher.

Toxic cloud

When the lava touched the sea on Tuesday, around 23.00 hours (Canary Islands time), there was a brutal thermal shock between the river of magma, at about 1,000 degrees Celsius, and the ocean, at about 20. Because of this, the water is evaporating forming a toxic cloud containing substances harmful to people, such as sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid or hydrofluoric acid. The professor of toxicology at the University of La Laguna Arturo Hardisson warned Wednesday that the gases that are being emitted “do not have a striking odor, so do not warn and can burn the lungs”. The expert called on the population to stay one or two kilometers away from the coast of Tazacorte and asked that, in the case of needing to approach the area, should be impregnated surgical mask in bicarbonate, in addition to using goggles, hat, closed shoes and shirt and long pants.

Among the effects of the toxic cloud, Hardisson warned that inhaling these gases can cause serious irritation, especially in the eyes. He explained that these acids in the air can “burn the lungs and cause death”.”. In addition, if they come into contact with the skin, he said, “the fumes can cause cardiopulmonary arrest”.

For these reasons, the Cabildo de La Palma has recommended this Wednesday to the residents of the confined neighborhoods (San Borondón, Marina Alta, Marina Baja and La Condesa) not to leave their homes and to stay outside the exclusion zone, and added that access to the evacuated areas will not be allowed.

In its social networks the palm island corporation has also indicated that the irrigation operation for farmers with farms in Puerto Naos, El Remo and Las Hoyas is paralyzed.

Affect on marine flora and fauna

The fall of lava from the new volcano of La Palma to the sea will affect at first negatively to marine flora and fauna, but in the long run its impact will be enriching, and the gases that are emitted in contact with sea water are not a danger, said Wednesday the CSIC volcanologist Joan Martin.

Joan Martí has indicated that it is normal that, as happened with the underwater eruption that occurred in 2011 in El Hierro, the entry of lava into the marine ecosystem causes a significant and negative impact, because it introduces material at very high temperature.

Chemical elements that are not in balance in the system are also introduced, so the immediate impact will be negative, but, in the long run, the ecosystem will reproduce and enrich much more than it was, said Martí.

Therefore, the consequences in the medium and long term will be positive, as it has been in El Hierro, he added.

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