SPAIN’S Instituto Geográfico Nacional (IGN) confirmed on Tuesday that an underwater eruption has occurred five kilometres off the southern coastline of El Hierro, the smallest of the Canary Islands.
The eruption is Spain’s first since the eruption in 1971 of the Teneguía volcano on the island of La Palma, also in the Canaries.
The IGN says all three of its seismic stations on El Hierro have registered a volcanic tremor of low frequency in the south of the island at La Restinga, the southern-most village in the Canaries. The estimated 537 residents of the town were summonsed to a local football field on Tuesday afternoon to be briefed on evacuation procedures.
A Red Alert has since been issued by local authorities for the town.
A notice posted on the Emergencia El Hierro website on Tuesday evening stated: “Phase pre-eruptive. It involves the initiation of a preventive evacuation. Make yourself available to the authorities.”
Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and cabinet colleagues will attend an emergency briefing on the developing situation on Tuesday evening.
Scientists from IGN and CSIC (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas), meanwhile, have conducted a reconnaissance flight over the sea to the area south of the island, where they have located dead fish floating on the surface five kilometres from the coast. The dead fish were identified in an area where lower seismic magnitude occurred on October 9, at a depth of approximately 2 km. The fish had probably been killed by gas escaping from the volcano, scientists said.
The present volcanic activity is understood to be occurring at a depth of 600 metres below sea level, in the Las Calmas sea.
Scientists from IGN, CSIC and the University of Cadiz have established their monitoring base at La Restinga. Efforts are underway to determine if the subsea volcanic vent is widening and if so, in which direction.
Initial reports of the eruption were received from crews on board four separate ships. Local media agency Canarias7 reported on Monday that Government authorities have suspended ferry activities to and from the 285 square-kilometre island.
English language newspaper islandconnections.eu reported: “The maritime chief for the province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife Antonio Padrón has issued a recomendation that boats should not sail closer than four miles off El Hierro. Divers have also been told to suspend all activities.”