Who owns the fajana created by the volcano on La Palma? and nine more questions

The fajana that has formed the lava of the volcano on the island of La Palma It belongs to the State, and it will extend until it reaches a length of about 1,000 meters, because that is where the platform on which the lava is settling ends and the depth of the ocean abruptly passes from 30 to 300 meters.

Once the crisis caused by the devastating effects that the eruption at Cumbre Vieja is causing on La Palma is overcome, science, geology, will re-scrutinize all the information that this space is capable of reporting to researchers on the evolution and functioning of the Earth.

From the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain (IGME), one of the public research centers that have been working on the island of La Palma since the seismic swarm that led to the volcanic eruption began, its scientific deputy director, Luis Somoza, responds to some of the main doubts about the scientific and geological interest of the new delta and about its future.

Who owns the new land that lava has reclaimed from the sea?

The new land belongs to the State.

Is it foreseeable that the new “low island” will grow much more? Or not, taking into account the great depths that are reached a short distance from the coast?

It is not an island. It is a lava delta or more specifically and technically a delta fan, since it is a fan-shaped deposit that is poured into the sea. If we say “lava river” then it is a “lava delta”. It is foreseeable that it will grow to 800-1000 meters where the platform on which the delta sits ends. From here, the depth increases steeply from 30 to 300 meters. There could be collapses and formation of cracks in its front as it reaches higher and higher height.

Why are the fajanas (deltas) that form this type of eruption so interesting from a scientific and geological point of view?

The growth has been very fast and is generated by progressive lobes of lava that are formed through the “fan rods” that transport the lava towards the front of the delta and that are making it grow on the marine platform. There are many examples but it had never been seen how it was built in such a short time, less than 24 hours, and it was believed that it could be a much slower process on a geological scale.

Is it necessary to adopt any extraordinary measure to ensure adequate protection and optimal conservation of this new natural space?

Of course. Although it is not a current issue, it will be necessary to ensure the ideal use of these spaces in terms of geodiversity. The delta is also the youngest territory in Spain.

Can this place end up being added to the list of Places of Geological Interest, to prevent it from being degraded or destroyed? Or even become a “geosite” (“geosite”) of global interest and relevance?

Of course it is a site of geological interest as it is a newly formed lava delta. We do not doubt that it will be an inexcusable geo-site for tourism and of global relevance.

Geological heritage provides science with the best information on the evolution and functioning of the planet. Is your deep knowledge also the best way to understand the evolution of the Earth to avoid natural catastrophes and devastating effects?

The delta as a geological heritage is a jewel since it has offered us the opportunity to see how the Canary Islands grow as oceanic islands. It is a case similar to the Hawaiian Islands, and the Kilauea is a reference as geological heritage. The monitoring that we carry out of the volcano will allow us to have references to avoid natural catastrophes in the future. It is an intense and deep learning.

Spain stands out for being a particularly “geodiverse” country. Will the new space generated in the ocean enrich that heritage? Or is it predictably very similar to the one already existing on La Palma and other Canary Islands?

Spain is a geo-diverse country. The new space created will undoubtedly enrich our geological heritage. In the El Hierro eruption, the underwater volcano stayed about 80 meters away but did not emerge as an island, which would have been considered new territory. In this case, the lava flow has generated a lava delta that makes the island grow to the west.

Why is it so important to conserve geological heritage? Can this type of space become an economic booster? In the axis around which a model of sustainable development at a local scale will revolve in the coming years?

This episode can and should become an economic boost for the island, promoting sustainable tourism for visits on the effects of the eruption on the island of La Palma. A similar case is found in Iceland or the Hawaiian Islands, where active eruptions drive sustainable tourism. Of course, it must be done from a scientific point of view, and advised by the organizations that work in geodiversity, such as the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain, which allow directing and coordinating the main points of scientific interest of the present eruption. On the island of Faial, Azores, a geotourism center has been built on the Capelinhos eruption in 1958-59. This center, raised under the volcanic ashes, is a reference for a visitor center to publicize the eruption that devastated the Island of Faial, and that forced a strong emigration of the island’s population to America.

Once the economic and social crisis caused by the devastating effects of the eruption has been overcome, can this be one of the best “natural laboratories” to know how the Macaronesia region in general and the Canary archipelago in particular will evolve?

Once the crisis is over, this eruption will be one of the best laboratories to study the relationship between volcanic processes (of which we obtain images daily) and the resulting products such as the delta, lava rivers, cones, etc. Undoubtedly, it will be a laboratory of great importance to study the evolution of the volcanic phenomenon of the Canary Islands, and of Macaronesia in general.

From the biological and geological point of view, are these new formations better or worse to welcome life again? What kind of species will foreseeably be the first to colonize the new natural space?

It is a “badlands” and means that it will take years for plant life to colonize the recent runoffs. However, around the lava delta new underwater life will grow in a short time, 1-2 years, since there is a great fertilization by volcanic emissions, especially forming pyroclastic plumes, as observed in the underwater eruption of El Hierro.

In this underwater volcano, we have another example of the regeneration of ecosystems after an eruption or emission of volcanic products. In this underwater volcano, an extensive garden of soft corals has been generated on the summit of the volcano. This growth and colonization by benthic organisms will, in turn, attract pelagic organisms such as fish, etc. Marine life will undoubtedly resurface and flourish at the foot of the lava delta, and it will become a tourist site for diving among underwater lavas of special relevance.


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