December 5, 2011

Volcanic Activity Could Spawn New Canary Island

An undersea volcanic eruption that has been ongoing in the Atlantic Ocean south of the Canaries for more than a month now could be creating either a new island or an additional territory to the southern coast of El Hierro, said scientists studying the eruptions.

For more than a month, burning lava and gases have been spewing up from the sea floor three miles south of El Hierro, the smallest of the seven Canary Islands. And on Tenerife, the most populous of the group of islands, 60 miles away from the eruptions, residents have felt the tremors associated with the event.

Scientists have detected more than 11,000 tremors across the island over the past four months, according to Nemesio Perez, scientific coordinator at Involcan, the Canaries Institute of Volcanology.

“There has been an enormous amount of seismic activity around the island,” said Perez. “Off the south coast, the magma has broken through the crust. The question is whether that will also happen off the north coast too.”

Islanders have no idea when the eruptions will likely cease, said journalist Barbara Belt, noting the communities soon hope to return to normalcy.

The eruptions have led to many business closings -- including bars, restaurants and hotels -- in the coastal village of La Restinga, on the south coast of El Hierro. Many villagers have fled in fear of the eruptions. And those that remain have their suitcases and emergency rations packed and ready to go in case it gets any worse.

Sitting in a near-empty bar in La Restinga, Maximo Rodriguez told BBC News that the local tourist trade had suffered a great deal. “The TV and papers dramatize everything,” he said. “It scares people off. People should come. How often do you get the chance to witness this?”

Dr. Joachim Gottsmann, a vulcanologist at Bristol University in the UK, said the prospect of an Iceland-like “ash cloud” developing in the Canaries is doubtful, and villagers should not worry too greatly.

“Right now, the eruption south of El Hierro is really a submarine eruption only.” However, he added, that could change at any minute.


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