El Hierro Earthquake And Volcano News Updates

October 17, 2011

Fragile Earth




To view older updates you can read part one on El Hierro Eruption.  All times are now in UTC – please remember to share this post with others who might be interested.

Update 21/10 – 08.35 :  Yesterday there was almost no change to the situation directly involving the eruption apart from the increase in earthquakes.  Though the quake activity has increased they are still relatively low in magnitude but are at a depth that suggests new magma is moving into the volcano.

The mayor of El Pinar has told the residents that the volcano is almost dead!  This must surely be a personal assumption and a dangerous one to voice.  No one can tell at the moment if the situation is slowing down to completely normal levels or if the volcano is simply in a quiet period of the eruption.

What is thought to be the most likely scenario is that the fissure that the eruption was using is slowly closing and magma is on the move once again.  The increase in earthquakes is a good indicator and suggests that the magma doesn’t yet have a good route to escape from – you can read more on this theory on Jon Frimann’s blog.  The biggest problem is the opening of new fissures which can happen on land without any warning at all.

The Red Alert level will remain in place for La Restinga and air monitoring will take place to ensure that the residents are safe as they return to their homes from today.  At the moment many of the residents are pleased to be able to return with the main problem now being the economic impact the eruption is having.

At the moment the diving industry within the town along with the fisherman are being hardest hit.  Economic assistance is being asked for.                              

Volcanic Eruption El Hierro

© Instituto Geográfico Nacional.

Update 19/10 – 13.11 :  There has been little change on the eruption front to report.  The tremors have remained stable for the last 24 hours but they do still continue and there are reports that the gas bubbles are showing themselves every now and then.

It must be stressed though that this eruption is not over and the chances of new fissures opening up without warning are still high.  The main reason that we are seeing this quiet period is thought to be down to the fissure that has been erupting closing.  With that said, there is always the chance that the eruption to continue to slow down and go back to sleep for a few more months or even years.  No one knows and no one can tell you as predicting what a volcano will do next is virtually impossible.  This quiet time is also not unusual in the eruption process either.

The main problem for the people of El Hierro (especially those in La Restinga) is being removed from their homes and not knowing when they will be able to return.  Many residents who have been evacuated have been allowed to return during the day today but under strict guidelines – it’s still not known if they will be able to stay in their homes.

Many of the residents are fisherman who have been unable to fish the area and therefore have no income – the government has said that they will be providing these residents with food but not money.  The local government has been very vocal about the economic implications that this eruption is having on the island but with the residents and is calling for assistance.

In the stained area of sea around the bay of La Restinga the acidity is so high that almost everything is being killed – the waters were rich with fish and supported the local fisherman.

El Hierro Coast Line

© http://www.gobcan.es/

Update 18/10 – 10.27 :  In yesterday’s updates there was some concern voiced about the safety issues of letting the residents of La Restinga return to their homes.  In the evenings meeting with PEVOLCA it was decided that they should delay that from happening until today after the currents turned and a strong smell of sulphur could again be detected.  They will look at the decision again today at 16.00UTC and although some residents were a little upset at not going home, most were more worried about returning at an unknown danger.

The tunnel has also been reopened but only to emergency vehicles and heavy goods vehicles and is being closely monitored.

It has also been noted that Nemesio Perez, from the Volcanology Institute of the Canarias, has said that there is not enough magma to create a new island.  This comes after yesterday’s claim from scientists that there was ‘thought’ to be more than 50 million cubic meters of magma beneath the volcano.  During the eruption of La Palma that lasted for 24 days, there was thought to be 40 million cubic meters.

There was another major blow to scientists yesterday when it was revealed that no boats with ROV’s would be able to arrive on scene until the weekend – the chance to study the eruption for future reference has now been lost.

This morning the villagers are saying that the gas bubbles have no disappeared and the earlier reports of geysers being seen have been swiftly denied by officials.  It’s also been noted that the tremors have decreased overnight after some short bursts late in the evening.

Hierro Volcano Eruption

© Instituto Geográfico Nacional.

Even though the tremors are decreasing it should be noted that there are still on-going earthquakes, some deep which indicate that magma is moving still.  At the moment even the scientists on the ground at El Hierro would have to admit that this is all based on estimates and guess work – it’s still very unclear what is likely to happen.

El Hierro Eruption

© IGS.

Update 17/10 – 13.38 :  Whilst yesterday saw some changes with the giant gas bubbles and Ramon Ortiz who is with the CSIC (Centro Superior de Investigaciones Científicas) predicting that a new island would be formed from the eruption – today gives us a very mixed and unsettled review of what is happening.

Even though several members of the team who are monitoring the situation have said that they expect to see the birth of a new island within a few weeks (if the eruption continues) there are now reports coming through from other scientists saying that this is very unlikely to happen.

More confusion has been caused by the residents being told that they can return to their homes from the evacuated area of La Restinga.  Residents who seemed unwilling to leave in the first place soon changed their mind when the strong smell of sulphur was picked up – sulphur poisoning can be deadly – when they were allowed to return briefly.  Even though there is strict guidelines in place for further evacuations and there has been the installation of hydrophones, the residents are concerned now for their safety should the eruption reach land.

Whilst some are saying that there is no risk at all to the population, even with an eruption on the island itself, others are not so sure.  There is the risk for steam explosions to take place and throw burning volcanic debris into the air and not forgetting that if an eruption does take place on land, lava flow will be seen.  Although no one is expecting there to be huge volcanic eruptions there is still an uncertainty on what is actually going to happen next.

With so much conflicting information it’s easy to see why the residents are having a hard time deciding what to do for the best.

The main feeling on the island of El Hierro (especially with those evacuated from La Restinga) was that the tunnel should be reopened.  Emergency vehicles were already using it and as the earthquakes were relatively low level, the people were becoming insistent.  Yesterday the decision was taken to reopen the tunnel within 24 hours once it had been inspected.

As the currents have changed direction, the debris from the eruption is making its way in the bay of La Restinga.

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About Emma Stone

Emma Stone is a founder of News Independent. Emma has wide and varied interests but her main interests are in the Fragile Earth category. You can follow her on Twitter, keep up to date on Facebook or even on Google +.

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