09/21/2021 at 9:02 AM CEST
What will be the environmental consequences of the La Palma volcano eruption? Experts say that now a new terrain is born, a new ecological reality, which will replace the previous one. The lava flow that is sliding down the slope towards the sea through the Cumbre Vieja Natural Park is changing, to begin with, the nature of the terrain and is burying extensions of fertile soil (crops) or forest that will be converted into malpaís, that is, an impassable surface of sharp and cutting rocks typical of a more or less recent eruption.
The professor of Ecology at the University of La Laguna, José Ramón Arévalo points out that, technically, there is a case of “primary succession & rdquor; “A new terrain appears right now, without any kind of life, waiting to be colonized & rdquor; by new organisms in the future.
Although the main attraction and value of this natural park are precisely the volcanic formations found in it, there are also plant communities of interest, such as Canary Island pine forests and, to a lesser extent, laurel forest and fayal-heath. These plant formations could be in danger if the lava chooses the path where they are, and there are still days of eruption ahead, according to experts.
The colonization of the new terrain created by the eruption will be slow. Very little by little, new seeds will be transported by the wind, birds or other animals to the inhospitable place that from now on will preside over this newly created surface. First, a plant of species will be born more easily to establish quickly in such an adverse environment. Later, even an isolated pine will be able to take root by breaking the hard and complicated rocky substrate with them & mldr;
About 3,000 years to have a soil like before
Wherever a wooded mass now disappears, it will be necessary to wait a long time to see it again. “Slowly some isolated tree will be able to enter, but to see a forest it may take 3,000 years & rdquor;, says the ecologist from the University of La Laguna. This is so because, previously, a soil capable of harboring an ecosystem like that must be formed on the badlands, and that is a slow process.
Instead, what will be able to quickly colonize that terrain are invasive species that have been detected in other Canary Islands, such as Lanzarote, and that “they are very prone to colonize disturbed lands & rdquor ;, given the few needs they have. They are species of exotic plants, already present on the islands, but which will find fertile ground on the volcanic flows. “This is a problem, because invasive species, once they are installed in a place, there is no way to eradicate them, and they represent a loss of biodiversity in the affected place, because they compete with the autochthonous species & rdquor ;, which they end up displacing .
The professor does admit the possibility that some underground aquifers may be affected by the toxic emissions derived from the eruption. “In the affected area, the aquifers can be contaminated by the emanation of gasesBut that will only happen on a local scale and these aquifers will have to be used with care. Anyway, I would not be afraid in this matter, because the aquifers are very controlled by the authorities & rdquor ;, affirms Arévalo.
Neither tsunamis nor climate changes
Instead, what there will not be, he categorically assures, is a change in the island’s climate. The eruption does not have (and, apparently, will not have) enough magnitude to affect the climate even on a local scale, “unless the situation changes a lot & rdquor ;, he qualifies.
The ecologist recalls that large eruptions, such as that of 1883 in Krakatoa, in southern Indonesia, had an impact on the climate on a planetary scale and their effects lasted three years. It will not be the case of Cumbre Vieja: “It would have to be a more dramatic eruption than it is being, with more continuous and intense emissions & rdquor ;, points out the scientist.
And of course, rules out that there will be a tsunami as a consequence of the detachment of a slope of the volcano on the sea. This hypothesis rests on a certain scientific basis, since in 2000 the British scientist Simon Day directed a controversial research project that ended with a documentary on the BBC in which he predicted the collapse of the island in a future eruption, with the consequent landslide of much of the island to the sea, which would cause a megatsunami that would reach from Canada to Argentina and would devastate the entire east coast of the United States, destroying cities such as New York, Washington or Miami. “That would be the most apocalyptic scenario, and in fact tsunamis like this have happened in the Canary Islands, but it does not seem that this is going to be the case & rdquor;” says the ecologist.
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Main photo: holaislascanarias.com