The Canary Islands are on the African continental plate, which ‘floats’ on the Earth’s mantle in an easterly direction at a speed similar to that of fingernails. About 20 million years ago, the plate began to pass over the ‘hot spot’, which injected magma and began to create the first islands: Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. La Palma and El Hierro are the youngest islands, only 1.8 and 1.2 million years old respectively. The hot spot is still under them and that is why they have active volcanoes that make them grow in extension and surface.
Volcanologists believe that the magma sleeve is currently under La Palma. In 2011 he created an underwater volcano on the island of El Hierro that was about to reach the surface. This is how all the islands were born, which are actually huge volcanoes. From the bottom of the sea, La Palma is about 6,500 meters high, almost as high as the highest peak in the Andes. Similarly, the oldest islands, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, are disappearing due to erosion and will end up submerged.
“The La Palma eruption is undoubtedly the most destructive in the history of Spain,” says Juan Carlos Carracedo , a 79-year-old geologist from La Rioja who has spent most of his life studying volcanism in the Canary Islands. Since the Castilians conquered La Palma in 1493, seven other volcanoes have been recorded whose lava washed away houses, crops and even ports. But its impact was less because the island was much less populated and there were no economic engines such as tourism or banana greenhouses. “Not even the Timanfaya on the island of Lanzarote in 1730 caused so much damage”, adds this emeritus professor from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
The video above shows the eruption of the Cabeza de Vaca volcano, on La Palma , from September 21 to October 1. The lava flows have destroyed or damaged more than 1,000 buildings, far more than recorded in other eruptions. It is the latest chapter in a history of volcanism that began more than 20 million years ago. It is a phenomenon that is both destructive and creative, because without volcanoes, none of the Canary Islands would exist.
In the last five centuries, all the volcanoes on La Palma have emerged in Cumbre Vieja, a spectacular mountain range punctuated by almost 30 craters that extends to the south of the island. This is probably the only place in Spain where in just a few hours you can touch stones born in the last five centuries, the youngest soil in Spain.
Like the current one, the lava tongues of most historical eruptions advanced along the western slope of Cumbre Vieja. Many of them reached the sea and created platforms that expanded the surface of the island.