La Palma volcano: Rumours of feared mega-tsunami debunked by experts

Watch: Cumbre Veja volcano erupts in Spain

This week, the Canary Islands have seen their first volcanic eruption in 50 years – which has raised old fears about a possible ‘mega tsunami’ which could lash America.

Experts have stepped in to quash the fears, which are based on a 20-year-old scientific paper and documentary which have repeatedly been debunked.

Various misleading articles have suggested that the eruption could trigger a rock fall which would mean America was hit with a huge tsunami.

This week America’s National Tsunami Warning Center said, “There is NO tsunami danger for the U.S. East Coast at this time, following the eruption of Cumbre Vieja volcano, La Palma, Canary Islands.

“The National Tsunami Warning Center is monitoring this situation and based on all available data, including nearby water level observations, there is no tsunami hazard for the U.S. East Coast.”

Read more: Volcano erupts in Spain

This week’s eruption has forced the evacuation of about 5,000 people and destroyed about 100 houses.

The volcano erupted on Sunday, shooting lava hundreds of metres into the air, engulfing houses and forests, and sending molten rock towards the Atlantic Ocean.

Fears of a ‘mega tsunami’ were sparked in 2001 by Dr Simon Day and colleagues at University College London.

Dr Day suggested that an eruption of Cumbre Vieja could dislodge a huge section of the island of La Palma.

The paper suggested that this could lead to a vast tsunami – 2,000 feet high at the point the rock entered the water, and still up to 150ft high when it reached America.

Mount Cumbre Vieja erupts in El Paso, spewing out columns of smoke, ash and lava as seen from Los Llanos de Aridane on the Canary island of La Palma (Photo by Andres Gutierrez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

This week, experts stepped in to damp down fears that a mega tsunami could lash America in the wake of the eruption.

Writing on Facebook, Luis González de Vallejo, Director of the Geological Risks Area of Instituto Volcanológico de Canarias (Involcan) wrote, ‘The recent volcanic reactivation in La Palma has once again sparked the debate on the stability of the west flank of the island and, in particular, the Volcanic Building of the Old Summit, a recurring issue for decades, raising concern in society.

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He continued, ‘For 20 years now, when some researchers will affirm the possibility that there could be a major collapse of the west side of the Old Summit and as a result of this the generation of a megatsunami, fear has been transmitted over such a catastrophic event.’

De Vallejo says that the hypothesis of a massive collapse leading to a mega-tsunami has been ‘rebutted and discarded’.

He points out that the collapse of ‘Old Summit’ would require a vast (and extremely unlikely combination of eruption and earthquake – or for the volcano to grow bigger.

Mount Cumbre Vieja erupts in El Paso, spewing out columns of smoke, ash and lava (Photo by DESIREE MARTIN/AFP via Getty Images)

De Vallejo says, ‘For the Old Summit's flank to meet conditions close to instability would have to occur simultaneously an exceptionally high-magnitude earthquake and a large-magnitude volcanic eruption, or for the current volcanic building to reach its natural growth at least a thousand meters more above the current maximum elevation.

‘To reach this height, more than 40.000 years would have to go by, referring to the average growth rate of the island over the last million years. On the other hand, the probability of an eruption with a high explosive rate at the same time as a large earthquake is extremely remote, according to the geological record of such events on the island.

‘Therefore, Old Summit is stable, even under the effects of eruptions similar to those that occurred in the last tens of thousands of years.’

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Even if a collapse did occur, scientists using different models predicted that any waves created would be much smaller.

Undersea topography would reduce the size of the waves – although the Canary Islands could still sea significant damage.

In an article written in 2013, earth scientist Professor Dave Pettley points out that the supposed ‘mega tsunami’ would only be created if all the rock fell into the sea at once – which never happens.

Pettley wrote, ‘Previous flank collapses have occurred as a series of distinct events rather than as a single coherent block. Each of these could have been able to generate a very large wave, and even a local tsunami.

‘However, they would not have generated a megatsunami. There is no reason to believe that a future event will behave differently, so this scare should be consigned to the garbage can once and for all.’

Smoke rises from cooling lava in the residential area of Los Campitos (Photo by DESIREE MARTIN / AFP) (Photo by DESIREE MARTIN/AFP via Getty Images)

A surge of lava destroyed around 100 homes on Spain’s Canary Islands a day after a volcano erupted, forcing 5,000 people to leave the area (Photo by DESIREE MARTIN/AFP via Getty Images)

This week, Volcanologist Nemesio Perez said there were unlikely to be fatalities as long as no-one behaved recklessly.

La Palma had been on high alert after thousands of tremors were reported over a week in Cumbre Vieja, which belongs to a chain of volcanoes that last had a major eruption in 1971 and is one of the Canaries' most active volcanic regions.

One man was killed in 1971 as he took photographs near the lava flows.

A submarine eruption occurred about 10 years ago close to the islands but caused little damage.

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