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Canary Islands: New Subsea Volcanic Eruption Occurs Near El Hierro

By Sue Richards last modified Oct 16, 2011 08:45 AM

Published: 2011-10-16 08:45:48
Countries: Canary Islands

As reported by

The Spanish port of La Restinga, located in the southeast of El Hierro in The Canary Islands, has been closed due to fresh subsea volcanic activity.

An underwater volcanic eruption, Spain’s first since La Palma in 1971, was first detected in Las Calmas Sea on Monday three months after an unprecedented earthquake swarm commenced on the 285-square-kilometre island. A new eruption was detected about 2 miles south of La Restinga on Saturday morning (15 Oct., 2011).

Local Government officials say the decision to close the port and evacuate La Restinga’s estimated 670 residents is a precautionary measure in the event that the ongoing eruption should proceed to shallower levels, at which stage there is a heightened risk of explosive eruptions occurring close to or on the island.

The Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) also has introduced a two-kilometre exclusion zone around the Tacaron cruce, previously used by members of the public as an ocean viewing location.

Local officials quashed earlier media reports that more of El Hierro’s 11,000 were scheduled to be evacuated. They have appealed for calm and suggested there is no indication that an explosive eruption might occur on the island, the southernmost in the chain.

Meanwhile, there are unconfirmed reports that volcanic material has been identified floating to the sea surface, approximately 2.5 kilometres south of La Restinga. The reports have yet to be verified by Spain’s Instituto Geográfico Nacional (IGN). However, aircraft have been prohibited from flying over the affected area and marine vessels have been ordered to steer clear of the area.

Images, captured on Friday by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) flying on board NASA’s Aqua satellite, show two large green stains are visible on the surface of Las Calmas Sea.

In addition to the stains, IGN officials have reported a strong smell of sulphur and dead fish floating on the surface. The IGN said the large stains emanated from two fissures on the sea bed, approximately 700-1000 metres below the surface.

A ROV (Remotely Operated ‘underwater’ Vehicle) is scheduled to arrive in El Hierro on Monday to undertake a seabed study.

Reporting on the ongoing volcanic acivity, stated: “Unless the eruption proceeds to shallower levels from about less than 50-60 m water depth, either by the accumulation of volcanic material above the vents, or by a upward propagation of the eruption fissure towards the coast, it is unlikely that the activity will become dangerous for the coastal areas. Should the eruption proceed to shallower levels, however, the risk of explosive eruptions increases drastically as the water pressure to contain explosions becomes too low.”