TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A volcano on the island of La Palma has been erupting for six weeks now and, despite theories making the rounds online, it cannot cause a tsunami that would impact Florida.
La Palma is a Spanish island that’s part of the Canary Islands, which are more than 3,000 miles away from Florida. The Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma started erupting on Sept. 19 and still has not stopped.
According to the Associated Press, people on the island living near the volcano have been told to stay inside as lava, ash and gases continue to pour out. The eruption produced a magnitude 5 earthquake early Saturday morning, and another on Wednesday.
That volcanic and seismic activity led to some posts circulating online about the eruption causing a tsunami that could impact Florida. Those theories appear to stem from a 2001 paper claiming that, under certain circumstances, the eruption of Cumbre Vieja could cause a “catastrophic failure” of the west flank and a landslide. The paper claims that could cause a tsunami with waves up to 80 feet impacting the east coast of the United States.
That claim has since been debunked by several experts.
“The volcanic eruption of La Palma will not create a tsunami that will make it all the way to Florida,” Max Defender 8 Meteorologist Rebecca Barry said. “Even if landslide did occur, it would not displace enough water to create a large enough wave to travel across the ocean and damage our coastline.”
“Large, damaging tsunamis are created by far more violent earthquakes and other events that disrupt much larger volumes of water,” she explained. “More recent studies show that a complete collapse would possibly create a 3 to 7 foot wave.”
The National Tsunami Warning Center, part of the National Weather Service, also addressed the theories floating around.
“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 agency posted on Facebook on Sept. 19 when the volcano first started erupting. “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.”
The U.S. Geological Survey posted on its page as well, explaining why the scenario described in the 2001 paper is unlikely.
“The Canary Islands ‘mega-tsunami’ scenario assumed a single, coherent, massive collapse block that reached a high velocity very quickly. Ocean floor mapping surrounding the Canary Islands, however, indicates that collapses instead occur in incremental or piecemeal fashion,” the agency explained. “In addition, geomorphologists found, via slope stability analysis, that the potential collapse volume is much smaller than was simulated by the 2001 paper.”
The USGS added that tsunami modeling has “advanced considerably” since the paper was published in 2001.
“Studies of landslide-induced waves show that they travel at different speeds and interact more across long distances, leading to smaller wave height far from their sources,” the post said.
The AP reports that most of the approximately 85,000 people who live on the island of La Palma have not been affected by the eruption. More than 7,000 have been forced to evacuate, however, due to the lava flowing.