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Famous Russian Intellect warns: La Palma volcanic eruption may pose a threat to Western Europe

Famous Russian Intellect warns: La Palma volcanic eruption may pose a threat to Western Europe 1
Photo: REUTERS / Jon Nazca

The eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the island of La Palma (Canary Islands, Spain) may pose a threat to Western Europe. This opinion was expressed by a famous Russian polymath, TV presenter and political consultant Anatoly Wasserman.

According to him, now it has also become known that Mount Etna, the largest volcano in the Mediterranean, has become active in Sicily.

“Some seismologists speak openly about the threat to the whole of Western Europe. And not only because of the lava,” Wasserman emphasized.

French meteorologists, he said, are warning that large quantities of sulfur dioxide ejected from the Canary volcano will reach France.

“I remind you in plain text: even a relatively small amount of sulfur contained in gasoline has become a threat to buildings and statues, so you have to clean the fuel much more thoroughly than half a century ago, when there were several times fewer cars. Volcanic gases cannot be cleaned,” Wasserman said.

He added that in the event of such a threat, it will be necessary to look for new protective coatings, which will be very expensive.

The geologist who warned the world about the disaster

Currently, Just over a kilometer from the extreme point of the lava wall to the sea, only a slope and banana plantations stand in the way of the lava, as La Palma’s emergency services have reported.

As a result, the lava flow into the sea should begin by morning, on the eve of which local residents are ordered to put on gas masks, close doors and windows and do not go out under any circumstances:

Many years ago, a geologist was the first to warn the world about the forthcoming disaster. The geologist was interviewed, and expressed his catastrophic predictions:

Some of you may know that my research team was heavily involved in the 1990s and early 2000s in mapping the geology and monitoring ground movement at La Palma’s Cumbre Vieja volcano, which started erupting yesterday afternoon. The work recognised that the steep west flank of the volcano was unstable, and GPS measurements suggested that up to 500 cubic km could be slowly creeping seawards as a single, discrete, block at 1 – 2 cm a year. My colleagues, Simon Day and Steve Ward published a tsunami model, simulating what would happen if the entire block slid rapidly into the sea in a single event, as well as less extreme scenarios. The paper noted that a worst-case collapse would threaten the entire North Atlantic rim with a large and destructive tsunami. This attracted huge media attention, as did the BBC Horizon programme about our work – Megatsunami: Wave of Destruction – broadcast in 2000.

In academic circles, our findings also caused a flurry of interest that continues today. Arguing against the possibility of a major tsunami, some researchers proposed that the collapse would be slow and/or piecemeal, so that a major tsunami would not be generated. Others suggested that even if there was a major collapse, the tsunami would only be destructive locally or just within the Canary Islands archipelago, and would not be destructive at oceanic distances – e.g. the eastern seaboard of North America or Europe.

Other research and observations have, however, pointed to the fact that collapses big enough and fast enough to generate major tsunamis were not only possible, but quite common. Tsunami desposits arising from ancient volcanic collapses in the Canary Islands, Cape Verdes, Hawaii and elsewhere, provide evidence of waves that could be hundreds of metres high. Furthermore, giant boulder and other deposits preserved on Bermuda and in the Bahamas have been interpreted as having been emplaced by tsunamis arising from ancient collapses in the Canary Islands, arguing that destructive ocean-crossing tsunamis from future collapses are possible.

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Meanwhile, sea-floor images from the Canary Islands and elsewhere reveal that blocks of rock as large as the west flank of the Cumbre Vieja, or even larger, can slide into the sea in one go, thereby maximising the likelihood of major tsunami generation.

We stopped monitoring movement at the Cumbre Vieja in the early 2000s, so have no idea what has been happening since then, and especially in the build-up to the current eruption. Nonetheless, it is important to recognises that the west flank of the volcano remains an actively unstable rock mass that will fail at some point.

We continue to be confident that a major, tsunami-generating, collapse is perfectly possible – even probable – at this volcano, whether or not any tsunami impact is localised or extended. WE DO NOT, HOWEVER, PROPOSE THAT IT WILL HAPPEN IN THIS ERUPTION. It is likely that when the west flank fails, it will do so during an eruption, but this could be 10, 30, or 50 eruptions down the line. The chances that collapse will occur during the current eruption are very small, but we cannot say they are zero.

Thus, with the beginning of the eruption, it suddenly becomes clear that for such a dangerous volcano, which threatens half of Europe and the coast of the United States, no one has been closely monitoring it for 20 years, and local geologists have no idea whether something is moving there or not. 

And now, by the morning of September 27, maybe a little later, we will understand whether the geologist and Anatoly Wasserman were right or not.

The eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano occurred on September 19. As a result, about 450 buildings were destroyed and 6 thousand people were evacuated.

La Palma is a volcanic island that houses the 25-kilometer volcanic ridge Cumbre Vieja. Eruptions have occurred more than once in the past. The last of them was in 1971.


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