Lava Expands Island

Posted: October 5, 2021

Down, down, down, the lava flows from the volcano. Out, out, out it spreads. The lava flows from Spain’s La Palma Island into the Atlantic Ocean. When it hits the water, the lava hardens. That makes the island bigger than before.           

Scientists watch on satellite images. Those images show volcanic rock building up on the island’s western shore. The rock is sort of shaped like the letter D. It is 835 acres in size. (An American football field is a little over one acre. La Palma Island is growing by about 835 football fields!)           

When hot lava meets the ocean, dangerous gases are released into the air. Thankfully, it’s been windy on the island. So far, winds are sending most of those gases out to sea. Authorities are keeping an eye on the wind direction. If the wind shifts and gases are pushed back inland, the air could become unsafe for people to breathe. 

Scientists are also watching the direction of the lava flow. The volcano began erupting on September 19. Since then, lava has been running downhill like a river. Uneven ground could change the lava’s path. If that happens, the hot, molten rock could destroy more houses and farmland. For now, the flow tumbles over a cliff into the ocean where it hardens. As that happens, the lava is creating a delta. Most deltas form where rivers flow to the sea. Those rivers deposit sediment (rock and sand) that forms a new piece of land. In this case, the delta is formed by the volcanic flow hardening into rock—making new land. It’s shaped like a rounded off triangle.

La Palma is home to about 85,000 people. It is part of the volcanic Canary Islands. That’s an archipelago, or chain of islands off Africa’s northwest coast. The volcano wiped out about 855 buildings and almost 19 miles of roads on La Palma. It has damaged or destroyed many banana plantations. These farms offer a source of income for many islanders.

More than 6,000 residents have been evacuated from their homes. Officials asked hundreds more to stay home for safety. Thankfully, the volcano hasn’t hurt anyone since the eruption began. The last time there was a major volcanic eruption on the island was in 1971. 

Lava reaches the sea on La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain, on September 29, 2021. (AP/Saul Santos)