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After the volcano: how and when will we recover what the La Palma eruption has destroyed

On September 1, 1730, the land opened up at Timanfaya and a huge mountain rose out of nowhere. That volcanic eruption lasted six years and devastated almost a quarter of the island of Lanzarote. Tingafa, Montaña Blanca, Maretas, Santa Catalina, Jaretas, San Juan, Peña de Plomos, Testeina and Rodeos; In other words, a total of nine southern hamlets were swept off the face of the Earth and all of Lanzarote suffered an intense rain of ash and lapilli that lasted for months. Faced with the gruesome spectacle, despair and fear, many islanders took refuge on other islands.

Lanzarote had about 5,000 inhabitants at that time: this could mean the end of the settlements on the island. Nevertheless, in the next 38 years and driven by the amount of nutrients that said lapilli has, the population multiplied by two and the island economy soared. It went from being a mere cereal producer to becoming an orchard full of all kinds of fruits, vegetables and the famous malvasia wine.

As the famous cyberpunk theorist David de Ugarte said, the great lesson that the end of the Cold War and its “nuclear panic” left us is that the end of the world does not exist, that there is always an after. What will the post-Palma volcano look like? How do you rebuild everything after the monster’s wrath?

Against the desolation of the volcano

The truth is that after the destruction of the volcano, what comes is desolation: the malpaís, the impractical rocky expanses left by lava when it solidifies. In a natural way, nature recovers the territories lost by the destruction of the volcano. However, depending on the weather conditions, the badlands can take a long time to become fertile again. While, after the 1991 eruption, the nature (and the population) around the Pinatubo has almost completely recovered and there are Hawaiian volcanoes perfectly integrated into the economy of the North American state, Icelandic volcanoes need a little more time to develop the first ones. green shoots.

This does not mean that, as with the explosive phase, we cannot do anything. Humans lWe have been living with volcanic activity for a long time and that has allowed us to put our creativity into practice. Precisely after the eruption of 1730, the newly appointed Bishop of the Canary Islands, Pedro Manuel Dávila y Cárdenas, traveled to Lanzarote at the request of Felipe V to examine the magnitude of the disaster. It was he who implemented an active policy to take advantage of the ash and lapilli to rebuild the island’s agriculture. An idea that spread to the rest of the archipelago and the world.

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However, it is there better than anywhere that the Gueria shows its full potential. Farmers dug out cones in the ash layer to make plants more easily rooted in the volcano-stickened soil, while the top layer of lapilli reduced evapotranspiration. The biggest problem is that all this happens (will happen) in the vicinity of the laundry. But What will happen to the affected land? Can we recover the badlands? When and how will we do it?

This is how we will recover the badlands

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Alain Bonnardeaux

If we look at places like Hawaii or Iceland (+) that suffer these problems more frequently, we will see that the first thing that is done is to recover the infrastructure. It is not an easy process because, although the surface of the laundry cools down quickly, the interior remains at high temperatures for a long time and, as explained by Joan Martí Mollist, coordinator of the Barcelona Volcanology Group, rebuilding roads, water pipes and electrical installations can be dangerous for months or even years.

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Houses, buildings and civil life in general, to the extent that they often need a greater mobilization of land, will be delayed even more in time. The other big question concerns the terrain. When can it be cultivated again? When will the banana industry recover? The answer is complicated. As far as we know, soil weathering in the Canary Islands is a long process. The area surrounding the Teneguía eruption is still little recovered and that happened half a century ago.

However, in recent years “an attempt has been made to recover the land by working it mechanically, moving the soil from another part of the island or placing water at an artificial level as irrigation”. That is, trying to accelerate the natural process of soil weathering through technology. However, we don’t have many guarantees that it will work. As volcanic eruptions remain rare occurrences, it is difficult to experiment with new approaches and evaluate their effectiveness. La Palma will be, in this sense, one of the world’s recovery laboratories.

Be that as it may, there are many things that neither technology nor time will be able to recover. That is the true magnitude of the tragedy.

Image | Ben turnbull