Bombarding The La Palma Volcano Will Be Nonsense, But It Is Possible To Modify A Lava Flow: This Is What We Know About The Number Of Times It Has Been Attempted

Bombarding the La Palma volcano will be nonsense, but it is possible to modify a lava flow this is what we know about the number of times it has been attempted

“Isn’t there an airplane that flies and can make it fall? Arriving and making it fall boom! And I direct the lava in one direction. What I’m saying is nonsense anyway. It seems to me that from the point of view From a technological point of view, you have to try it.” The literal quote is from Casimiro Curbelo, the president of the La Gomera council and, as was foreseeable, it has aroused controversy in the press and social networks.

And it is that, indeed, Curbelo’s proposal may sound absurd, but that does not mean that it has not been tested. This lava redirection system has been used twice on Hawaiian Mauna Loa: once in 1935 and once in 1942. Both times, it was unsuccessful. However, the question of whether we can divert the flows has been discussed for hundreds of years and it seems like a good time to review the answers we have.

Can a volcano be diverted?

In Hawaii, attempts to redirect lava flows date back to 1881, but in other volcanoes such as Etna, we have had experiences of this type since 1669. In general, these attempts did not work well, but they started a long series of scientific and technological investigations to explain why they did not.

After all, the possibility of altering the trajectory of lava arises from observing how it behaves in real life. If the Todoque Mountain has been able to divert the flow, why couldn’t we do it artificially, either by building strategically placed barriers or by using large amounts of water to cool specific fronts of the flow?

The latter was successfully tested in 1973 on the island of Heimaey (Iceland). At that time, the eruption of the volcano threatened to destroy the port of Vestmannaeyjar and that presented enormous problems. The five-month effort required moving six million cubic meters of water but maintained the integrity of the port. Of course, it was quickly shown that it was not a magical solution.

In Iceland it worked because the lava was very viscous and moved slowly, giving this type of focus an opportunity. The problem is that each volcano has its non-transferable lava. Furthermore, as we have seen in the case of La Palma, this lava changes throughout the eruption.

The most recent example is perhaps that of Etna in 1991. Although barriers and explosives were used there, the flow could not be controlled. The success of the intervention was achieved by using explosives near the mouth of the volcano to redirect the flow from (almost) the origin. The problem with this is that, as the apocryphal legend of the 1669 eruption tells, moving the laundry like this changes some and affected others.

Can the lava flow be diverted in the volcano on La Palma?

Can the lava flow be diverted in the volcano on La Palma

That is the big question. Not if it is possible on a theoretical level, but if it is possible on La Palma. Because there are indeed ways to “manage” the lava flow, yes. But they are crude, clumsy, and only work in the best of circumstances and, of course, without the surgical precision that would be needed to guide the laundry to the sea without causing damage in terrain like La Palma.

Does Curbelo’s proposal make sense? Probably not. Above all, the bombing has proven to be a rather clumsy method in this field. That is not to say that we do not have to reflect on the latest technology available and our actual ability to implement it.