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VolcanoStories

When Volcán de Tajogaite erupted in Cumbre Vieja ridge in La Palma on 19 September 2021 we were in a unique position to document the event. As a geoscience education company based in Tenerife with a focus on science communication, we wanted to ensure our unique resources could be put to good use during the volcanic emergency and beyond.

At the time, we were in Tenerife running our GeoIntern programme and had ironically just run a SciComm training session with our students, who had to report under intense time pressure on a volcanic emergency simulation using real data from the 2011 El Hierro eruption.

As we began to report on the events in la Palma, we were contacted by media outlets around the world for interviews and commentary, which can be viewed in a dedicated playlist on our YouTube channel. We decided to travel to La Palma to provide ongoing analysis of daily events, supporting the authorities’ messaging and helping to put the science into context for local, national and international audiences.

It became quickly apparent that there was little time for those on the front line to record events and testimony in a more reflective way, and news crews only broadcast headline events. We decided to take up this role and committed to publishing it openly to ensure full and open access to our resource for all. We hope this will help inform future study of the event, and lead to a greater understanding of the wide ranging impacts of a long urban eruption like this one.

In order to do this sensitively we set ourselves strict boundaries. Witness testimony is a valuable resource if gathered in the right way. For us, this meant ensuring everyone we spoke to understood what we were doing and why; were happy to participate, and were allowed the time and space to tell their stories in their own way. Some preferred to do so as an audio recording – this meant we could record their historic testimony in a way they felt comfortable doing, which for us was the key parameter.

It is not easy to ask questions in the middle of an emergency of this scale – but everyone we spoke to was committed to ensuring they could transmit their experiences to enable future lessons to be learned.

In terms of the science, it was at times difficult for international observers to track all the sources and developments during the emergency, so we produced daily summaries which we now tie in with additional resources to enable the day-to-day evolution of this crisis to be better understood and analysed. Once the emergency was over we published weekly summaries. These summaries are based on reports published in the media locally at the time to reflect the information available locally in real time.

We are grateful to all the local institutions and companies that have helped us in this endeavour, making their material freely available here as well.

As the project gathered pace we joined up with Alexander Whittle of New Light Studio to produce a documentary, Lava Bombs: Truths Behind the Volcano, which highlights many of the key issues we raised in this project to a wider audience – we are keen to ensure the lessons learnt during this dramatic event help to inform emergency managers worldwide. Why is this important? Because often the lessons learnt in one emergency don’t filter across in any meaningful way to another sector or territory. It’s not enough to talk about them in closed scientific meetings and papers. See: www.lavabombsfilm.com for full details or click on the link about the film on the column on the right for more information.

We also felt compelled to help as best we could during these tumultuous weeks. Money and aid were promised in great quantities but took time to come through and we wanted to be able to help those going through a very tough time straight away. It was also a way to enable our followers to support the people of La Palma in a very direct way. Our SamuLaPalma campaign was born when we met Samu Cáceres Leal on a rooftop in La Laguna during one of our Instagram Live broadcasts with our GeoIntern students.

Having spoken to many of our associated experts during the volcanic crisis, we were concerned that not enough information had been published on the risk of being exposed to volcanic ash during the emergency, and we started our FFP2 campaign (despite the fact that there are now a number of studies being carried out into the effect of ash on the population during the emergency). We discussed this first with Prof Claire Horwell of Durham University on the basis of her work in Hawaii who agreed to record a short informative video for immediate broadcast, and a further video with Kyle Dayton, a PhD student from Cornell University who was in La Palma at the time studying the ash. We followed up with care packs we delivered in schools and during cleanup campaigns, and with various posts on social media.

Although the eruption has been declared over by the authorities, hazards and challenges remain. We are committed to keep recording testimonies in the coming weeks, months and years as the job of reconstruction in La Palma has a long way to go yet and our fundamental concern is to verify all the promises that have been made to the people of this beautiful island are kept.

And of course we must ensure that we are all ready, resilient and better prepared for any future volcanic event in these Canary Islands we so love.

VolcanoStories is an ongoing project which we will continue to update and add to. We are currently working on a range of scientific investigation projects following reconstruction and regeneration in La Palma in collaboration with a range of local, national and international institutions always with the proviso that any publications are made OPENLY AVAILABLE and results will be shared also via VolcanoStories in future. We INVITE other institutions wanting to participate to contact sharonbackhouse@geotenerife.com.

ERRORS AND OMMISSIONS: VolcanoStories represents our best endeavour to reflect the eruption of Volcán de Tajogaite accurately, but we fully accept it may contain errors and omissions for which we apologise in advance and ask for your HELP. We encourage individuals or institutions who see an ERROR or who would like to CONTRIBUTE further material to help in this endeavour to contact: ben@geotenerife.com.

Lava Bombs

Release date: 19 September 2022

Available on Amazon Prime, Apple TV and Google Play..

Lava Bombs: Truths Behind The Volcano captures the explosive stories behind the crisis and response to the 2021 Volcán de Tajogaite eruption in Cumbre Vieja on La Palma in the Canary Islands. Tajogaite was the largest and most destructive eruption in La Palma for the last 500 years. It caused around €1 billion in damage, displacing over 6,000 people and destroying over a thousand homes and plantations. Lava Bombs reveals the heavy impact of this major disaster, through the voices of the affected people, emergency managers, politicians and scientists, as well as showcasing spectacular imagery captured by witnesses, news crews and drone pilots. For the first time, Lava Bombs digs deep into the responses of authorities before and during a dramatic emergency of this kind, looking past the headlines at the intense pressure of monitoring and managing an overwhelming natural disaster in the glare of the international media and providing a platform for the citizens at the heart of the destruction to share their incredible testimony. Lava Bombs shows how the ongoing human disaster on La Palma is not just a product of ash, lava and explosions, but is being compounded by a man-made, post-eruptive catastrophe. Themes of communication, trust and missteps are analysed as we start to look towards lessons learned for future emergencies of all kinds. We are eternally grateful to all of those who took part, recording their testimony for posterity at a time of incredible stress so valuable lessons can be drawn for the future. We hope it will lead to further constructive discussion and analysis so the lessons that have been hard won in La Palma can assist in emergency management and response of all kinds around the globe. Lava Bombs: Truths Behind The Volcano is a one-hour documentary co-produced by GeoTenerife and New Light Studio. It is directed by Alexander Whittle and produced by Sharon Backhouse. The documentary is a distillation of GeoTenerife’s ongoing #VolcanoStories project, preserving valuable testimony and research from the eruption of Tajogaite volcano. #VolcanoStories will be available to view at www.geotenerife.com/VolcanoStories from September 2022. #FuerzaLaPalma

VolcanoStories: Motivation and ethical considerations

In order to collect this valuable information sensitively we set ourselves strict boundaries. Witness testimony is a valuable resource if gathered in the right way. For us, this meant ensuring everyone we spoke to understood what we were doing and why; were happy to participate, and were allowed the time and space to tell their stories in their own way. Some preferred to do so as an audio recording – this meant we could record their historic testimony in a way they felt comfortable doing, which for us was the key parameter.

It is not easy to ask questions in the middle of an emergency of this scale – but everyone we spoke to was committed to ensuring they could transmit their experiences to enable future lessons to be learned.

In terms of the science, it was at times difficult for international observers to track all the sources and developments during the emergency, so we produced daily summaries which we now tie in with additional resources to enable the day-to-day evolution of this crisis to be better understood and analysed.

We are grateful to all the local institutions and companies that have helped us in this endeavour, making their material freely available here as well.

As the project gathered pace we joined up with Alex Whittle of New Light Studio to produce a documentary, Lava Bombs, which will highlight many of the key issues we raised in this project.

We also felt compelled to help as best we could during these tumultuous weeks. Money and aid were promised in great quantities but took time to come through and we wanted to be able to help those going through a very tough time straight away. It was also a way to enable our followers to support the people of La Palma in a very direct way. Our SamuLaPalma campaign was born when we met Samu Cáceres Leal on a rooftop in La Laguna during one of our Instagram Live broadcasts with our GeoIntern students.

Having spoken to many of our associated experts during the volcanic crisis, we were concerned that not enough information had been published on the risk of being exposed to volcanic ash during the emergency, and we started our FFP2 campaign. We discussed this first with the Prof Claire Horwell of Durham University who agreed to record a short informative video for immediate broadcast, and a further video with Kyle Dayton, a PhD student from Cornell University who was in La Palma at the time studying the ash.. We followed up with care packs we delivered in schools and various posts on social media.

Although the eruption has been declared over by the authorities, hazards and challenges remain. We are committed to keep recording testimonies in the coming weeks, months and years as the job of reconstruction in La Palma has a long way to go yet and our fundamental concern is to verify all the promises that have been made to the people of this beautiful island are kept.

And of course we must ensure that we are all ready, resilient and better prepared for any future volcanic event in these Canary Islands we so love.

Photo gallery of GeoTenerife in La Palma

Contact

VolcanoStories Editor:
Sharon Backhouse
sharonbackhouse@geotenerife.com

VolcanoStories Science Content Coordinator:
Ben Ireland
Ben@geotenerife.com

Done and Coming Soon

Done

  • About us and the project
  • Day by day scientific summaries during eruption
  • Summary animations of the Lava flows and earthquakes during the eruption
  • ‘Contribute’ form for people to contribute their experiences

Coming Soon

  • “Lava Bombs” documentary and behind the scenes
  • Witness interviews and testimony
  • Day by day social media and news coverage of the eruption
  • 2021 La Palma eruption summary video
  • SAMULaPalma FFP2 campaign donations

Glossary and Key Words

Here you can find our glossary of Volcanic terms, complete with examples and explanations specific to the 2021 eruption on La Palma. You can download the glossary here in pdf or doc

VolcanoStories content is freely available for students, educational establishments and academics – all we ask is that you cite “GeoTenerife’s VolcanoStories”. 

However, the content is not to be used for commercial use. Any media or commercial outlet wanting to use any content herein should contact us in writing in the first instance via enquiries@geotenerife.com.

For more detail, refer to our Terms of Use.