Reconstruction on a lava flow at La Palma

Reconstruction on a lava flow at La Palma

Reconstruction on a lava flow at La Palma

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station captured these images of La Palma Island while in orbit over the North Atlantic Ocean. La Palma is part of Spain’s Canary Islands, located about 480 kilometers (300 mi) off the coast of Morocco and Western Sahara. The island is a basalt shield volcano consisting of two volcanic centers: the older, collapsed Caldera de Taburiente and the younger, active Cumbre Vieja.

From September to December 2021, a powerful eruption on the southwestern side of the Cumbre Vieja produced lava flows, lava fountains, and ash clouds. The activity lasted about 85 days, giving astronauts aboard the space station the opportunity to capture images of ash plumes and glowing lava flows at night.

In total, lava and ash flows covered more than 12 square kilometers (5 square miles) of La Palma extending 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the fissure to the coast. Ash and lava damaged more than 3,000 buildings and many banana plantations, and caused pine forests to yellow.

These images, taken in February 2016 (top) and August 2023 (bottom), show the landscape several years before and after the eruption. In the two years following the eruption, some of the roads were rebuilt, appearing as thin, light-colored lines interrupting the lava flow. Roads reconnect the towns of Los Llanos de Aridane with Puerto Naos and other neighboring communities. The eruption fissure appears in this image as a brighter linear feature halfway up the volcanic side.

Although not noticeable in the spatial resolution of these images, scattered trees and shrubs continue to grow amidst the deposited ash, including pine trees on the Canary Island (Canary pine). This fire-resistant serovar conifer, endemic to the Canary Islands, relies on heat from fires to melt the resin that surrounds pine cones to produce viable seeds.

The astronaut image ISS069-E-62382 was acquired on August 18, 2023, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 400 mm focal length. The astronaut image ISS046-E-40929 was acquired on February 13, 2016, with a Nikon D4 digital camera using a 400 mm focal length. The images are provided by the International Space Station Crew Earth Observation Facility and the Earth Sciences and Remote Sensing Unit at Johnson Space Center. The images were taken by an Expedition 69 crew member and an Expedition 46 crew member. The images have been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens elements have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the International Space Station National Laboratory to help astronauts take images of Earth that will be of great value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed on the NASA/JSC Astronaut Photography of Earth portal. Comment from Kadan Cummings, Jacobs, JETS II contract at NASA-JSC.

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