Volcanic monitoring of the Canary Islands: two scientific organizations carry out the same task and without coordination

File photo of personnel from the National Geographic Institute doing surveillance tasks on the edge of the Palmero volcano, during the eruption. / IGN

In 2004 the control of volcanism in Spain was assigned to the National Geographic Institute. The Involcan has been monitoring the archipelago since 2010

Carmen Delia Aranda

The installation in the Canary Islands of
future spanish volcano center raises doubts about how the volcanic surveillance of the islands will be developed, the only volcanically active zone of the national territory with risk of eruption.

control and surveillance of volcanic activity in the archipelago is carried out independently and without coordinating two organisms; the
National Geographic Institute (IGN)dependent on the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, and the
Volcanological Institute of the Canary Islands (Involcan), a public company dependent on the Cabildo de Tenerife that came into operation in 2010.

The only thing that is known about the future research center will be located in the Canary Islands, as announced by the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, in his meeting with the head of the Canarian Executive, Ángel Víctor Torres.


  • 12 years coexisting
    The central government assigned volcanic surveillance to the IGN in 2004, while Involcan began its activity in 2010

  • In parallel
    The two scientific entities have provided themselves with the means to monitor seismology, geodesy and geochemistry linked to volcanic activity

  • Without connection
    Both institutes carry out volcanological monitoring without coordinated management. They have only been coordinated when the Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan (Pevolca) has requested it.

In a few days, foreseeably during Sánchez's visit to La Palma,
Torres will announce on which island the center will be installed and how this project will be articulated, already outlined in 2005, when the Senate unanimously approved urging the central government to create a volcanological center in the Canary Islands. In that session, the senator of the Canarian Coalition, Melchior Navarro, denounced that in the Canary Islands «geophysical, geochemical, geodetic networks of diverse ownership, specifications, nature and scope, coexisted without coordinated management». After almost 17 years, the situation persists.

Since 2004, the responsibility for the surveillance and communication of volcanic activity in Spain, as well as the determination of volcanic risks, fell to the National Geographic Institute by virtue of the
Royal Decree 1476/2004.

“Since then, the IGN has carried out this task completely, although it had already been doing seismic monitoring since the 1950s,” explains IGN seismologist Itahiza Domínguez.

Resources to study geodesy, seismology and geochemistry

Over the years, the media has grown and currently
30 people work directly at the IGN in the volcanic surveillance of the Canary Islands15 at the IGN headquarters in Tenerife and as many in Madrid.

In addition, the surveillance network groups "more than 100 stations throughout the Canary Islands, of which 55 are seismic stations that send data in real time," says Domínguez.

seismographs they are distributed throughout all the islands, except in La Graciosa. In addition, the IGN has 37
GPS stations to measure the ground deformation on all the islands, to which the data from 14 Grafcan stations are added.

As to
inclinometers, the entity has eight distributed in Tenerife, La Palma and El Hierro. "This technique was the first to detect deformation on La Palma in the days before the eruption," he points out.

inSAR analysis of
satellite images, accelerometers to calibrate the movement generated by earthquakes,
geochemical stationss where gases are analyzed and
thermal imaging cameras they are part of the arsenal of the IGN volcanic surveillance network.

the Involcan has been equipped with means to analyze seismology, geodesy and geochemistry linked to volcanic activity with geochemical and thermometric stations in La Palma, Tenerife, El Hierro and Lanzarote, GPS stations in all the islands and seismographs in La Palma, Tenerife and Gran Canaria, as stated on its website.

Although the IGN and Involcan carry out this surveillance, they work without coordination. «
Institutionally there is no coordination in this sense, beyond the tasks imposed by the Volcanic Emergencies Plan of the Canary Islands (Pevolca)”, recognizes Domínguez.

“There will be an eruption. It will be in ten, forty or a hundred years. There's no way to know"

The Cumbre Vieja eruption has shown that "the risk and vulnerability of the Canary Islands is greater than expected," explains the seismologist of the National Geographic Institute (IGN), Itahiza Domínguez. Therefore, the IGN works "as if the next eruption could be soon," says the scientist.

The volcanically active islands –La Palma, Tenerife, El Hierro and Lanzarote– have a higher probability of eruption, while in Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura, although not completely ruled out, the probability is much lower, because their most recent eruptions occurred a thousand years ago.

In any case, surveillance tasks are focused on the most active islands. “We know that La Palma has had many historical eruptions and will have them in the future. When will it be? We do not know. It could be in 10, 40 or 100 years”, highlights the seismologist. As for El Hierro, he remembers that a decade ago the underwater eruption of Tagoro was recorded. "In El Hierro there are no recognized historical eruptions because there is no data, but it is possible that there were and have not been verified," he points out.

Regarding Tenerife, he points out that it is the island with the greatest volcanic risk because there is more population. Its size makes it necessary to provide it with a wide network of seismic and geodetic stations. "There may be monogenetic and basaltic eruptions like the ones we have had in the last 500 years, but Teide can generate more explosive eruptions," says Domínguez. For this reason, specific surveillance techniques are used in this volcano, such as thermal cameras to measure the temperature of the fumaroles, which in some points reach 80 degrees. Studying them is essential to detect a reactivation of the magmatic chamber », he indicates.

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