Volcanic mountains

Satellite captures rare weather phenomenon after volcanic eruption


Cumbre Vieja volcano, located on the Spanish island of La Palma, has been erupting since mid-September. In addition to the destructive lava flows and airport closures, the volcano produced a fascinating cloud formation when it erupted on October 4.

On Thursday, La Palma airport was closed for the second time in about two weeks due to the build-up of ash and dust on the runway.

The latest eruption forced the air above the volcano upward. This was followed by circular ripples extending from the volcano, which could be seen by satellite and were filmed by passers-by.

Meteorologists have given this meteorological phenomenon a name: gravity waves.

AccuWeather meteorologist Renee Duff explains that gravity waves occur when air is moved from a calm state.

“As this air is pushed up, it wants to come back down in order to stay in a state of equilibrium,” Duff said. “It can take many waves up and down for this state to be achieved. “

In this case, the waves were made visible by the formation of clouds, as the air rose and became humid, creating the repeating pattern, like seeing the ripples in the water after dropping a stone into a pond.


Volcanic eruptions are not the only mechanism that can create gravity waves.

“In the atmosphere, the ‘stone’ disturbing otherwise calm or stable conditions can be a severe thunderstorm, winds blowing over mountains, or cold fronts,” Duff said.

The satellite photo of gravity waves was not the only impressive image taken of the volcano from above. Planet Labs, Inc., which operates the world’s largest fleet of Earth-observing imaging satellites, took a stunning close-up on the same day, in which not only the eruption is visible, but also the lava that has hit the coast last week.

La Palma volcano eruption satellite

A satellite photo of the Cumbre Vieja volcano in La Palma, Canary Islands, shows a continuous eruption on October 4, 2021 (Planet Labs, Inc.)

Thousands of residents have been evacuated to the Canary Islands, located off the northwest coast of Africa, since the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano began on September 19, according to Reuters. Hundreds of buildings and farms were destroyed by lava flows, but a “miracle house” has survived. The eruption came with dramatic footage of lava devouring a swimming pool, filmed by drone.

Saturday morning local time on the north face of the volcano has partially collapsed.

Correction: This story previously distorted the location of the Canary Islands. They are located off the coast of northwest Africa.

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