La Palma’s volcanic headache: what to do with all the lava and ash | Volcanoes

For three months they have been topic to whims of a roaring volcano. Now residents on the small Spanish island of La Palma are wrestling with one other dilemma: what do with the hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of lava and ash it left behind.

The volcano rumbled for 85 days, ejecting ash and rivers of lava that swallowed greater than 1,000 houses, minimize off highways and suffocated the lush banana plantations that drive the island’s financial system.

The eruption was declared over on Christmas Day, leaving residents grappling with the daunting process of rebuilding. “It’s brutal,” mentioned Javier Moreno, considered one of La Palma’s 80,000 residents. “The affected space seems as in the event that they erected the Berlin Wall, however fabricated from black lava.”

A automotive lined in ashes in the Las Manchas neighbourhood. {Photograph}: Desiree Martin/AFP/Getty Photographs

In latest days about 2,000 of the 7,000 evacuated residents have been allowed to return residence. Many arrived to discover layers of powdery ash coating their houses, patios and vegetation – remnants of the greater than 200m cubic metres of lava and ash expelled by the volcano.


“It’s a steady battle,” mentioned Moreno. “You clear it away immediately, tomorrow the wind blows over a number of extra centimetres.”

In components of the island the ash buried houses, engulfed verdant plantations and collected in metres-high banks. The lava and ash reached past the island; lava cascading into the ocean throughout the eruptions created two new peninsulas, measuring 44 and 5 hectares, whereas underwater footage revealed marine life lined in ash.

Whereas round-the-clock efforts to clear the ash have succeeded in stockpiling a few of it in particular areas comparable to a former quarry on the island, removing of the red-hot flows of lava that sprawled into neighbourhoods and farmland has proved trickier.

“They proceed to retailer warmth, with temperatures of greater than 100 levels [Celsius] in some components,” mentioned Inés Galindo, a geologist who heads the Canary Islands unit of Spain’s Geological and Mining Institute.

As soon as the lava cools – a course of that would take months – it is perhaps simpler in some circumstances to construct on high of it somewhat than breaking it up and eradicating it, she added.

Gladys Jeronimo, 65, cleans sand and ash from her home in the Las Manchas neighbourhood.
Gladys Jeronimo, 65, cleans sand and ash from her residence in the Las Manchas neighbourhood. {Photograph}: Desiree Martin/AFP/Getty Photographs

As researchers and officers scramble to work out what may very well be accomplished with the supplies spewed out by the volcano, they’ve seemed to historical past. In the close by island of Lanzarote, a six-year eruption in 1730 left components of the island lined in volcanic materials. “The particles have been porous and ready to retain water in the soil … they took benefit of it to plant vineyards,” mentioned Galindo.

She and her crew at the moment are finding out the properties of the ash in La Palma to see whether or not it may very well be utilized in the same means whereas one other crew of researchers are probing whether the mineral-rich soil may very well be used as fertiliser.

Regional officers, in the meantime, are exploring the chance of utilizing the ash to construct houses, roads and bridges throughout the island. “It’s not an unique thought, we’re utilizing the methods that the Romans used,” mentioned Javier Juvera, an engineer with the division of public works in the Canary Islands. “The Romans labored with the ashes that got here out of [Mount] Vesuvius, utilizing them to construct their basilicas and buildings.”

A fissure is seen next to a house covered with ash on La Palma, December 2021.
A fissure is seen subsequent to a home lined with ash on La Palma, December 2021. {Photograph}: Emilio Morenatti/AP

His crew is now working to decide whether or not the ash scattered throughout the island is comparable to the volcanic ash used by the Romans to bind rock fragments. In that case, it may give rise to a sturdy development materials and play a task in rebuilding the island, the place regional officers have estimated the lack of buildings and infrastructure at greater than €900m (£750m).

Juvera described the concepts as a seemingly pure match for a for an archipelago hewn from volcanic activity spanning millions of years. “In the Canary Islands we’re used to working with volcanic supplies,” he mentioned, citing the longstanding observe of blending cement and materials extracted from volcanic cones to construct houses.

Each Juvera and Galindo mentioned it might be months earlier than they’d any definitive solutions on what may very well be accomplished with the blizzard of darkish ash ejected by the volcano. “The amount of supplies is so monumental – there are pictures of houses that have been virtually buried in ash,” mentioned Juvera. “But when we don’t discover a worth for it, it turns into waste.”

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