Saturday, December 28, 2013

Crisis in the Canary Islands: New Volcano Threatens to Erupt

Residents of the tiny island of El Hierro in the Canary Island chain off the coast of Africa are preparing for the worst after a series of strong earthquakes shook the region, creating landslides and fraying nerves of the local population.

The earthquake swarm culminated with one of the largest tremors ever recorded in the region, a magnitude 5.4, which hit the island yesterday afternoon, local time. The earthquake swarm began only 48 hours earlier, when seismologists noted a significant uplift in the ground near the submarine volcano of approximately seven centimeters. Local agencies designated to monitor the volcano raised the alert level to "Yellow" only yesterday morning, signifying an increased potential for the volcano to erupt.

The burgeoning volcano emerged from the sea only two years ago, following a series of similar earthquake swarms. A methane plume was noted rising from the sea bed shortly before the initial eruption of the new volcanic system.

More than 550 earthquakes rattled the area between Monday and Wednesday of this week, also centered on or near El Hierro. About 30 of the earthquakes were greater than magnitude 3 on the Richter Scale. Scientists and vulcanologists believe the seismic activity to be related to the movement of magma beneath the volcano. Similar earthquake swarms have been noted in the days and weeks leading up to major eruptions of other volcanic systems throughout the world.

The 2011 eruption of the underwater volcano created havoc on the island, home to some 10,000 residents, as the poisonous gases and debris emitted from the volcano affected the island's fisheries, the main source of jobs and income. Thousands of residents in the island's main village of La Restinga were also forced to evacuate as a precautionary measure.

Local agencies are monitoring the situation on a twenty-four-hour basis and are keeping the island on evacuation advisement, should a more violent earthquake or eruption take place. The region has long been a favorite vacation spot for Europeans, who flock to the sub-tropical island chain's world-famous beaches.

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