The tongues of lava that the Cumbre Vieja volcano is expelling on the island of La Palma could reach the coast this afternoon – around 8:00 p.m. this Monday, according to Ángel Víctor Torres, president of the Canary Islands. Contact between the lava and the sea is expected to occur on the coast of Tazacorte, possibly in Playa Nueva, in Los Guirres. As it passes, the mass expelled by the volcano will bury terrestrial, electrical and telephone communications.
The eruption of the volcano has formed a lava flow with an average height of 6 meters and that advances at 700 meters per hour destroying houses, crops and infrastructures in its path. But, in addition, the professor of Geology at the University of Las Palmas Gran Canaria, José Mangas, has advanced that another phenomenon is expected to occur when the lava tongues reach the sea: an acid rain. But why can this event occur? According to Arnau Folch, a volcanologist at the Higher Center for Scientific Research (CSIC), it is due to the evaporation of a series of elements that come from both the sea and the volcano itself.
“When a tongue of lava reaches the sea, large amounts of salty water evaporate: that is, it contains sodium chloride that remains in the atmosphere and, when it rains, this substance is corrosive”, explains Folch. “In any case, the volcano is expelling a series of gases that also worsen the quality of the air and, therefore, if the eruption persists for many days, acid rain may occur“According to this article in EL ESPAÑOL, although eruptions in the Canary Islands usually last for weeks, they could last for a few months.
The importance of sulfur
One of the main substances responsible for the acid rain that the volcano expels is sulfur dioxide. Experts have calculated that the volcano that erupted this Sunday on La Palma is emitting 6,000 to 9,000 tons of sulfur dioxide per day. This substance is not only expelled into the environment when there is an eruption, but it can also enter the atmosphere through earthquakes or natural fires and, above all, by the action of man – mainly, due to the pollution generated by some industries and cities.
Sulfur dioxide, and other gases involved in these corrosive precipitations such as nitrogen oxides and ammonia, are transformed in the atmosphere. Specific, these gases oxidize and give rise to sulfuric and nitric acids. Finally, these substances dissolve in the water of the clouds and precipitate in the form of acid rain, although there may also be cases of snowfall or acid fogs depending on the meteorological conditions, as stated on the Iberdrola website.
The main problem posed by these precipitations is that they have the ability to acidify the soils and the waters with which they come into contact. The volcanologist points to crops and plants around La Palma as one of the main affected by this phenomenon. Acid rains reduce the pH level of soils and favor the concentration of metals, which causes plants to absorb less water and nutrients. This makes their growth worse and they are more vulnerable to pests and infections.
No human danger
In any case, although the loss of crops is a serious indirect damage to populations, Arnau Folch rules out direct deaths from inhaling gases from the environment. “Yes, it will affect air quality and people may notice a rotten egg smell characteristic of sulfur dioxide,” says the expert. As explained in this article by EL ESPAÑOL, no dangerous situations are expected for the island’s population, although there are inevitable material losses due to the lava tails.
Acid rain is also a phenomenon that damages waters, both oceanic and continental, and the species that live in them. Basically, this event compromises the life of a large number of aquatic species: in the sea, the drop in pH affects the phytoplankton on which various species feed; in lakes and rivers, the acidification of the waters produces a concentration of some metals that it can be fatal to fish, amphibians and aquatic plants; finally, metals can precipitate and render groundwater unfit for consumption.
In the case of a volcano eruption, derived acid rains are unavoidable. However, these types of natural phenomena are not responsible for most of its damage to ecosystems. To reduce its incidence throughout the planet, experts recommend implementing pollution reduction measures at industrial and city level and raise awareness about the benefits of energy saving.
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