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US: Fact check: Tsunami reaching East Coast due to Spanish volcano highly unlikely, experts say

Volcano erupts on Atlantic island; lava destroys some homes

  Volcano erupts on Atlantic island; lava destroys some homes LOS LLANOS DE ARIDANE, Spain (AP) — A volcano on Spain’s Atlantic Ocean island of La Palma erupted Sunday after a weeklong buildup of seismic activity, prompting authorities to evacuate thousands as lava flows destroyed isolated houses and threatened to reach the coast. New eruptions continued into the night. © Provided by Associated Press Lava flows from an eruption of a volcano at the island of La Palma in the Canaries, Spain, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021.

The claim: Experts predict La Palma eruption to create tsunami that would reach the U.S.

Lava flows from an eruption of a volcano at the island of La Palma in the Canaries, Spain, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. © Jonathan Rodriguez, AP Lava flows from an eruption of a volcano at the island of La Palma in the Canaries, Spain, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021.

A decades-old theory has resurfaced online after a volcanic eruption on a Spanish island that caught the world's attention.

On the island of La Palma, in the Canary Islands, a volcano erupted in the afternoon of Sept. 19 after a weeklong buildup of seismic activity.

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Days later, the lava continued to flow through the four mouths of the volcano toward the island's western coast. By Sept. 20 it had already forced the evacuation and relocation of over 5,000 residents.

Canary Islands volcano roars to life for first time in 50 years

  Canary Islands volcano roars to life for first time in 50 years The outburst is the latest in a string of fissure-style eruptions dating back centuries on the Spanish island of La Palma. Experts say it could last for weeks. From afar, it looked spectacular. Vertiginous fountains of lava almost 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit screamed skyward, reaching heights of up to 5,000 feet—nearly twice that of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper. Below, braided rivers of molten rock poured from the fissures like blood from open wounds.

As the latest developments are shared online, many social media users are also sharing a longtime theory that the eruption could cause a tsunami that would reach the East Coast of the United States.

"The things I've read they are expecting it to erupt and a piece of land would slide into the ocean and it would cause a tsunami for the USA east coast!" the post says. "They have been predicting this for years."

The accompanying image is a map of the eastern part of the United States. Text laid over it claims that a "50 meter tsunami after Canary Island volcano eruption and landslide puts THIS under water."  Florida, New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, and parts of southern Texas and Louisiana are among the areas that would be purportedly affected by the tsunami, according to the image.

Lava flow slows on Spanish island after volcanic eruption

  Lava flow slows on Spanish island after volcanic eruption TODOQUE, Canary Islands (AP) — The advance of lava from a volcanic eruption in Spain’s Canary Islands has slowed significantly, raising doubts Thursday about whether it will fan out across the land and destroy more homes instead of flowing into the sea. A giant river of lava slowed to four meters (13 feet) per hour after reaching a plain on Wednesday. On Monday, a day after the eruption on the island of La Palma, it was moving at 700 meters (2,300 feet) per hour.As it slowed, the lava grew thicker. In places, it rose up to 15 meters (50 feet) high, authorities said. The lava now covers 166 hectares (410 acres) and has swallowed up around 350 homes.

The image has spread widely on social media. Another version, posted on Facebook on Sept. 19, accrued more than 800 shares in two days before it was deleted.

Nick Knowles, an English television presenter, also shared a version of the claim on Twitter, where he has almost 160,000 followers.

While the theory being shared exists, social media users are presenting it as if it is a likely scenario or represents an expert consensus of some kind.

In reality, it's a hypothesis that both American and Spanish officials have debunked, saying the conditions required for a tsunami big enough to submerge part of the country's coasts are extremely unlikely to happen.

More: Volcano erupts on Spanish island La Palma forcing thousands of evacuations

USA TODAY reached out to the users who shared the image for comment.

Volcanic eruption not big enough to create tsunami

As of Sept. 21, two days after the initial spew of lava, the Cumbre Vieja volcanic eruption had covered around 254 acres and destroyed 166 buildings, according to the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute, which has been sharing news and analysis on the eruption.

La Palma volcano: Visual guide to what happened

  La Palma volcano: Visual guide to what happened A series of maps and charts explaining what happened after an eruption in the Spanish Canary Islands. © Getty Images What happened?Lava has been flowing down the mountain and through villages since the crack opened in the Cumbre Vieja volcano on 19 September, throwing jets of lava and ash into the air. © BBC More than 6,000 people have been evacuated, including 400 tourists who have been taken to the neighbouring island of Tenerife.La Palma, one of the most western and smallest of the Canary Islands, is known for not being as "touristy" as some of its neighbours.

The chances of acid rain and toxic clouds remain low, though the volcanic ash in the air could pose a risk to residents of the island.

And there's a vastly lower chance of a landslide causing a tsunami big enough to reach the coast of the United States.

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The theory has been around since 2001, when two college professors – Steven Ward from University of California, Santa Cruz and Simon Day from University College in London – published a study about the possibility of a tsunami originating in the Canary Islands later reaching American coasts and other parts of the world.

The four-page paper said that "during a future" eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano, a landslide of between 150 and 500 cubic kilometers, which could trigger a tsunami with waves between 10 and 25 meters high hitting North America around nine hours after the hypothesized volcanic eruption.

Spanish and American officials have pushed back on the theory, however.

After announcing the eruption on Twitter on Sept. 19, the U.S. Geological Survey said the tsunami threat remained local, debunking users' claims that a purported "mega-tsunami" would happen.

toxic cloud, extent of damage ... All about the eruption of the volcano to the Canary Islands

 toxic cloud, extent of damage ... All about the eruption of the volcano to the Canary Islands A week since its eruption on the island of La Palma in Canaries, the Cumbre Vieja volcano has forced to the evacuation of 6,200 people. The phenomenon may last. © AFP.com/desiree Martin Eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano, on the island of El Paso, in the Spanish archipelago of the Canaries, September 19, 2021 It was awaited scientists: September 19, the volcano Cumbre Vieja erupted on the island of Palma to the Canaries.

That same day, the U.S. National Tsunami Warning Center posted on Facebook that the eruption did not pose any tsunami risks to the East Coast.

The islands' volcanology institute has assured that extreme conditions would have to occur for the theory to become a reality.

For instance, the volcano would have to grow by 1,000 meters over its current height, which the institute told Spanish national TV station Antena 3 would take another 40,000 years.

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Another way a "mega-tsunami" could occur is if an earthquake of "exceptionally high magnitude" and a high magnitude volcanic eruption were to take place at the same time. Those two phenomena together could lead to a landslide of the Cumbre Vieja flank, which is what Ward and Day's theory hypothesized.

None of these conditions have occurred, however.

'Mega-tsunami' theory resurfaces with seismic activity in La Palma's

The "mega-tsunami" theory often resurfaces with news of a volcanic eruption or seismic activity in the Canary Islands.

In 2016, the Daily Star, categorized by Media Bias Fact Check as a "questionable source" of news based on its "routine publication of conspiracy theories," published an article on the theory. In response, geographer and earth scientist Dave Petley debunked the theory on his blog, "The Landslide Blog."

Spanish Authorities Anxious as Volcano Lava Moves Toward Sea, Worry Over Toxic Explosions

  Spanish Authorities Anxious as Volcano Lava Moves Toward Sea, Worry Over Toxic Explosions Lava has devoured everything in its path, destroying 589 buildings and 13 miles of roads on La Palma. The lava now covers 637 acres, mostly farmland.Once the lava reaches the water, it could cause a release of toxic gas and explosions.

Petley, whose research at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom focuses on landslides , said no previous volcanic flank collapse in the world has led to a tsunami of the magnitude Day and Ward describe. Additionally, he wrote, submarine deposits from volcanic flank collapses suggest they don't happen as one big collapse, like Day and Ward hypothesize.

Rather, they happen in a series of slides, which would make the resulting tsunami "much less significant."

"It really is time that this event was presented for what it is, which is an absolutely extreme scenario based on a very highly unlikely combination of events that is without precedent," Petley wrote.

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While the last volcanic eruption in La Palma happened 30 years before Ward and Day's study was published in 2001, the island is of volcanic nature, and seismic activity is often considered normal.

In the last two decades, there has been extensive seismic activity similar to the small earthquakes seen prior to the eruption, according to Spain's National Geographic Institute. This activity was within normal parameters for the area and didn't "present any risks to the residents." Many of the earthquakes registered aren't even felt by residents, as they happen kilometers under the surface.

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In October 2017, after more than 100 seismic events were registered within one week in La Palma, the islands' volcanology institute debunked the theory – again.

La Palma Volcano Erupts Again, Has So Far Destroyed 1,000 Buildings on Spanish Island

  La Palma Volcano Erupts Again, Has So Far Destroyed 1,000 Buildings on Spanish Island Authorities reported "intense" activity in the area where the new eruptions occurred, sparking fears of the lava causing further destruction on the island. "There is concern about the path of this new flow towards the sea, although it is expected to join up with the previous one within the next few hours," said Mariano Hernandez Zapata, head of La Palma's council. For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below. The new fissures, about 50 feet apart, sent streaks of fiery red and orange molten rock down toward the sea, parallel to an earlier flow that reached the Atlantic Ocean earlier this week.

"Although it's been more than 10 years since this theory, the hypothesis that gave way (to the idea) of a collapse of the Cumbre Vieja is still being considered," the institute said, according to the Spanish online newspaper El Diario.

The institute said the probability of a highly explosive eruption happening at the same time as a large earthquake – which is required for the theory to be true – is "extremely remote, according to geological records of this type of event on the island."

"The Cumbre Vieja is stable even under the effects of eruptions similar to those that have occurred in the last tens of thousands of years," it said.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that experts have predicted the eruption in La Palma will cause a tsunami that would reach the U.S. Spanish and American officials have said the volcanic eruption doesn't present any risks to the United States. Experts have thoroughly debunked it, saying the hypothesis is based on unprecedented events and assumptions of a massive landslide. Experts said such a landslide is extremely unlikely.

Our fact-check sources:

  • USA TODAY, Sept. 19, Volcano on Spanish island erupts for first time in 30 years; lava destroys homes and forces evacuations
  • The Guardian, Sept. 20, Canary Islands: 5,000 evacuated as La Palma volcano eruptions continue
  • Nick Knowles, Sept. 21, Tweet (archived)
  • Involcan, Sept. 21, Tweet
  • Antena 3, Sept. 21, Is there a risk of acid rain and toxic clouds when the lava from La Palma's volcano reaches the sea?
  • University of California, June 27, 2001, Cumbre Vieja Volcano -- Potential collapse and tsunami at La Palma, Canary Islands
  • Spain National Geographic Institute, accessed Sept. 22, "New seismic activity localized in the south of the island of La Palma"
  • USGS, Sept. 19, Tweet
  • National Tsunami Warning Center, Sept. 19, Facebook post
  • Antena 3, Sept. 20, Is there a risk of a tsunami after the volcanic eruption in La Palma?
  • Media Bias Fact Check, Feb. 7, 2020, Daily Star UK
  • Daily Star, July 20, 2019, MEGA-TSUNAMI hell feared as killer wave could 'hit UK at ANYTIME'
  • University of Sheffield, accessed Sept. 22, Professor Dave Petley
  • The Landslide Blog, Sept. 20, 2016, A science story that just won't die: the Canary Island Megatsunami scare rears its head once more
  • El País, Sept. 19, Teneguía, 1971: This was the last terrestrial volcanic eruption in Spain
  • Spain National Geographic Institute, accessed Sept. 22, "Earthquake Swarm in the island of La Palma (09-10-2017 and 14-10-2017)"
  • El Diario, Oct. 19, 2017, The Involcan assures the volcanic building of Cumbre Vieja is 'stable' and it's landslide is very remote

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PM vows to rebuild Spanish island hit by volcanic eruption

  PM vows to rebuild Spanish island hit by volcanic eruption MADRID (AP) — Spain's prime minister vowed Sunday to rebuild the island of La Palma, where a volcanic eruption has spewed molten lava and a thick cloud of pyroclastic ash for the past two weeks, destroying houses and banana crops. The eruption is giving no indications it will end soon. Lava flowing from vents in the Cumbre Vieja volcano range has destroyed over 900 buildings and displaced about 6,000 people so far, and new vents opened just days ago. The island of 85,000 people lies in Spain's Canary Islands archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of Africa.Returning for the third time since the volcano eruption began on Sept.

Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Tsunami reaching East Coast due to Spanish volcano highly unlikely, experts say

PM vows to rebuild Spanish island hit by volcanic eruption .
MADRID (AP) — Spain's prime minister vowed Sunday to rebuild the island of La Palma, where a volcanic eruption has spewed molten lava and a thick cloud of pyroclastic ash for the past two weeks, destroying houses and banana crops. The eruption is giving no indications it will end soon. Lava flowing from vents in the Cumbre Vieja volcano range has destroyed over 900 buildings and displaced about 6,000 people so far, and new vents opened just days ago. The island of 85,000 people lies in Spain's Canary Islands archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of Africa.Returning for the third time since the volcano eruption began on Sept.

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