A volcanic eruption on La Palma in the Canary Islands has destroyed hundreds of homes and led thousands of people to evacuate. The proximity of the lava to developed areas is especially apparent in this photograph, shot with a handheld camera on September 22, 2021, by an astronaut onboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The eruption began on September 19 from fissures on the western flanks of Cumbre Vieja, an elongated volcanic range spanning the southern two-thirds of the island. Observers reported an initial explosion that day that lofted ash and gas thousands of feet into the air.
Pulsating fountains of lava have since been feeding lava flows running downslope, engulfing trees, banana plantations, homes, and infrastructure. According to news reports, more than 5,000 people evacuated as lava flows threatened neighborhoods in El Paso, Los Llanos de Aridan, and Tazacorte. Ashfall and sulfur dioxide emissions affected nearby communities as well.
La Palma is one of the youngest of the Canary Islands, a volcanic archipelago off the west coast of Morocco. La Palma’s Cumbre Vieja last erupted in 1971. “While 50 years is a relatively long time for humans, it’s a geological moment in terms of this very active volcano,” said William Stefanov, a remote sensing scientist for the International Space Station science office.
Stefanov previously wrote about La Palma in 2008, describing geologic features visible in an astronaut photograph of the same area. By day, it becomes easy to see Cumbre Vieja’s numerous cinder cones, craters, and lava flows.
Astronaut photograph ISS065-E-416000 was acquired on September 22, 2021, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a focal length of 400 millimeters. It is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 65 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Story by Kathryn Hansen.