Off the coast of South Sahara and the southwest corner of Morocco are the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago with islands of varying sizes. One of these islands includes La Palma which has its share of pristine, turquoise waters and clear skies. La Palma is the perfect place to vacation.
In the middle of La Palma is the Cumbre Vieja, an almost 2000 meter high active volcano, which, in the recent months, has caused anxiety to the island’s residents and neighboring countries because of a possible eruption. Due to dike intrusions, rocks created from magma cooled before reaching the Earth’s surface, and pressurization, there are concerns that the western side of the island will eventually submerge into the Atlantic ocean.
What is the problem with this? From a study done by Steven N. Ward and Simon Day comes a theory to what would happen if the western side were to collapse; the theory is widely dubbed as “The Doomsday Scenario”. The 500 km3 landslide is modeled to be 25 km long, 15 km wide, 1,400 m thick and moving at a speed of 100 m/s. This rapid downfall would result in a tsunami so powerful that within 10 to 20 minutes, the surrounding Canary Islands would be flooded to only several hundred meters in height above sea level. However, the effects wouldn’t only affect those within the archipelago, but also across three other continents. Within the next hour, the 50-100 meter waves would sweep ashore into Western Sahara. The tsunami would not stop there; the Western coast of Europe should expect to receive waves 5-7 meters high while northern South America will see waves between 15-20 meters in height. This all would occur within five hours of the initial landslide. Furthermore, the area projected to receive the most damage is Eastern North America with the tsunami waves building up to 20-25 meters before landfall. Within 11 hours, the Caribbean, North Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Central America will have felt the effects of La Palma’s Cumbre Vieja.
The result? The decimation of inhabitants in the Canary Islands and Western Sahara due to little warning times would occur. Still, even people who live in North America, which is about 3,000 miles away from La Palma, would have less than 11 hours to evacuate safely. This most likely means that the best way to escape the flood would be moving upwards, meaning tall skyscrapers could be used as refuge in cities such as New York and Boston. Overall, if this scenario does come true, people should expect a great number of deaths and destruction, so, for now, let’s hope that the waters stay calm in La Palma.
*Disclaimer: The events given in this report are the worst possible scenarios.
“The Doomsday Scenario.” The Doomsday Scenario, University of Arizona, www.geo.arizona.edu/~andyf/LaPalma/doomsday.html.
Day, SJ. “Recent Structural Evolution of the Cumbre Vieja Volcano.” 10 May 1999, pp. 1–33., doi:10.1075/ps.5.3.02chi.audio.2f.