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Illustration by Security Management

Volcano Erupts on the Canary Islands

As the Cumbre Vieja volcano on one of the Spanish Canary Islands spews a steady stream of lava, emergency workers continue evacuation efforts and attempt to divert the lava’s unstoppable flow.  

The Canary Islands, an archipelago that lies just west of the southern coast of Morocco, is a long-standing tourist destination. Roughly 6,000 people have vacated La Palma, one of the smaller and lesser-populated islands that is also home to Cumbre Vieja.  

Fire and lava from the eruption, which began earlier this week, have destroyed at least 320 homes, as well as swimming pools and vineyards. Also at risk are the island’s banana crops, which typically generate a large portion of La Palma’s income. According to ABC News, banana crops provide jobs for more than 10,000 people on an island with a population of 85,000. 

Authorities have not reported any deaths or injuries due to the eruption, thus far. Some residents of the villages close to the volcano were allowed to return home to retrieve personal belongings, under the supervision of emergency services. 

The lava’s progress towards the Atlantic Ocean was slowed when it encountered flatter terrain on Tuesday and emergency workers attempted to detour the flow away from the nearby village of Todoque. 

Should the lava flow reach the ocean, other dangers could occur including powerful explosions. 

“As the water expands explosively into jets of steam, it can fragment the lava into exceptionally fine-grained ash,” The New York Times reported. “Another concern is the possible release of toxic gases from reactions between the lava and the seawater.” 

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) reported that a column of volcanic smoke rich in sulfur dioxide was released by the eruption and is predicted to continue spreading northwards from the island, eventually moving over Spain and France by the end of the week, according to

The Canary Islands sit on top of a volcanic hot spot. Scientists closely monitor the site and have established stations to analyze earthquakes. Seismic activity intensified around La Palma in 2017, indicating the likelihood of an eruption. Earlier in September 2021, scientists warned of an event after detecting thousands of small quakes, according to the Times 

The last major eruption of Cumbre Vieja was in 1971. Scientists monitoring the current event said lava could continue emitting from the volcano for weeks and it is possible that more eruptions could occur. The Canary Islands’ geology allows for lava and gases to escape, possibly resulting in additional eruptions throughout the area.