New Fissure Opens Up as La Palma Eruption Intensifies

New Fissure Opens Up as La Palma Eruption Intensifies
Lava flows from a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain on Friday Oct. 1, 2021 (Photo: Daniel Roca, AP)

The Canary Islands’ Cumbre Vieja volcano has a new lava feature. The volcano that’s been erupting for nearly two weeks saw a fissure open on its flanks on Friday.

The rupture has unleashed even more lava, which could join the already steady stream flowing into the Atlantic. As of Friday morning local time, two streams of lava were flowing from the fissure located about a quarter mile (400 meters) from the main crater. The lava streams becoming a lava river is a concern. But so, too, is the risk that new lava could pose to more populated parts of the island.

Cumbre Vieja’s New Fissure Poses a Unique Concern

Lava from a volcano reaches the sea on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 (Photo: Saul Santos, AP) Lava from a volcano reaches the sea on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 (Photo: Saul Santos, AP)

The main lava flow has so far steered clear of the most populated areas in the western part of the island where the eruption is happening. That’s not to say it hasn’t done damage; 870 structures have been engulfed, including the so-called “miracle house” that was initially surrounded but not swallowed by lava. Island officials also issued evacuation orders for roughly 6,000 people.

But the new fissure opens the door for more damage. While the main flow has mostly moved directly west to the sea, the new flow is tracking a little farther northwest. CSIC, a research institution on the Canary Islands, said that one of the two new flows is moving toward Los Llanos de Aridane. That’s the island’s most populous town, which has so far dealt with ashfall but no lava. The lava has reportedly crossed LP-2, a major road that rings the island.

Local Officials Are Worried

Photo: Sunsets Sweden/AFP, Getty Images Photo: Sunsets Sweden/AFP, Getty Images

Officials have raised concerns about the initial lava flow because, duh, lava. But life continued in most parts of the island under business as usual. With the new lava flows moving toward more populated areas, though, worries are increasing.

“We have the biggest tragedy ahead of us, more people we have to help,” Mariano Hernández Zapata, the president of the island council of La Palma, told El País. “We are worried about the course this new flow of lava could follow, although we hope that it will join the other.”

Satellite Imagery Shows the Spectacular Flow to the Sea

This image, captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on September 30, shows the flow of lava from the volcano erupting on the Spanish island of La Palma (Image: ESA) This image, captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on September 30, shows the flow of lava from the volcano erupting on the Spanish island of La Palma (Image: ESA)

About that other lava flow. Imagery captured by the European Space Agency shows the trail of destruction it has left across the island. The agency released striking Copernicus-2 satellite imagery on Friday showing the stream of molten rock stretching nearly 6 kilometres from the Cumbre Vieja to the Atlantic Ocean.

Gases Are Escaping Where Lava Meets Ocean

Photo: Daniel Roca, AP Photo: Daniel Roca, AP

From above, the view is striking. On the ground, though, it’s another matter. Bathtub-temperature seawater and 1,800-degree-Fahrenheit (1,000-degree-Celsius) molten rock can mix with sizzling, explosive results. Together, they unleash what’s known as “laze,” a portmanteau of “lava” and “haze.” (Volcano researchers seem to love terms like this, having also coined “vog,” or volcanic fog.)

Laze is deadly serious. It contains a vile cocktail of scalding steam, harmful gases that include hydrochloric acid, and even tiny shards of volcanic glass. All pose serious health risks, which is why Canary Island officials are warning those who live downwind of the location to keep their windows shut and not spend much time outside, lest they come down with respiratory issues.

Lava Will Keep Piling Up

Photo: Sunsets Sweden/AFP, Getty Images Photo: Sunsets Sweden/AFP, Getty Images

The current eruption of Cumbre Vieja has already surpassed the last eruption on La Palma. Ángel Victor Torres, regional leader of the Canary Islands, said that 80 million cubic metres of lava have emerged from this eruption so far, doubling a 1971 eruption that hit the island. Lava is already piling up hundreds of feet thick in some locations. And with the new fissures, more of the landscape — and people’s lives — could be permanently altered.