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Sunday, November 21, 2021

When will the La Palma volcano stop erupting?

La Palma lava flows into the sea. European Space Agency, CC BY-SA 2.0

What must happen for the eruption to end?

When will the volcano stop erupting? Two months after the start of the eruption of the La Palma volcano, this is the question most people ask. Experts, from the first day, have insisted that Strombolian volcanoes are unpredictable. It is, therefore, impossible to guess when it will end, but there are some parameters that will give us clues when the beginning of the end begins. Our colleague, María Moreno, tells us how many and what they are: 

Seismicity, tremor, deformation of the ground, sulphur dioxide emissions … These are the terms that will determine what many are waiting for: the moment when the volcano can be declared 'off'. The geologists of the National Geographic Institute (IGN) Rubén López and Stavros Meletlidis tell us what the process will be like and when we will know that we are in a situation equal to before everything began, on September 19.

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The La Palma volcano is like a soft drink opened two months ago: it is losing gas, but bubbles are still rising. “Below there is still imbalance and it continues to inject magma. What we call 'systemic music'. And while there is music, there will be dancing,” explains López.

When will the volcano go out?

There are several clues that indicate that the volcano is fading. These are the parameters that volcanologists measure every day and one of the most important is seismicity, the earthquakes that wake up almost everyone on the island and now seem to be relaxing.

The tremor is included within the seismicity and is described as the vibration. "There will come a time when no material comes out and we can say that the eruption is ending," says volcanologist Rubén López. The tremor recently reached zero, but it recovered.

Deformation is another parameter that can indicate that the volcano is getting tired. To understand the concept, it is possible to imagine the volcano as a balloon into which the lava enters from below, swells and deforms. And so it can be a long time, as it happened in El Hierro. The crucial thing is not that it loses weight, but that it stops gaining weight. Something that, according to the expert, is being fulfilled: "We are in fairly stabilized parameters."

On the other hand, gases are a good indication to take into account. The volcano not only expels lava, but also sulphur dioxide. Right now up to 20,000 tons a day, but it has to go down to 500 before we can talk about the beginning of the end.

It will not disappear either linearly or progressively. The volcano will have comings and goings until one day the levels stop short. That, currently, is an impossible date to establish.

But something that can be anticipated is that we will not know that it has stopped its activity until much later, maybe even weeks. "It will have to be a consensus among scientists on which day we can determine that the day of extinction was," adds López.

"I'd like to predict the winning number in the Christmas Lottery", shares volcanologist Stavros Meletlidis, in a reflection of the desire of many of the people of La Palma.

¿Cuándo se apagará el volcán de La Palma? | 2021 Cumbre Vieja volcanic eruption