The Canary Islands, a little more than 60 miles west of Morocco, Africa, were formed more than 30 million years ago from volcanic eruptions. The Spanish archipelago is made up of 8 main islands with a combined population of more than 2 million residents. The main economic supporter of the Canary Islands is tourism. More than 12 million people visit the Canary Islands each year to experience unique culinary treats, exotic wildlife, luxurious beaches, and volcano adventures.
Tenerife and La Palma are the islands with the most active volcanoes, making them key tourist destinations, until now. On September 19, 2021, Cumbre Vieja on the southern tip of La Palm began to erupt. The last time Cumbre Vieja had an event was in 1971. At first, Scientists from the Volcanological Institute of the Canary Islands (INVOLCAN) reported that the volcano erupted effusively, meaning that lava began to steadily ooze down the slopes. Not long after, ash began to cloud the sky, and larger, more explosive eruptions began.
Cumbre Vieja shows no sign of slowing down. Experts from INVOLCAN say the volcano could continue erupting anywhere from 10 days to another 2 months. Drone footage has been shared with the world documenting the destructive path of the volcano’s lava flow. Safely out of range from the dangers of the lava, the drones show footage of fiery red and orange, viscus rivers consuming everything in its path. In the wake of the lava rivers, the drone footage shows fields of rock and debris left behind. More than 670 hectares of land have been covered by lava, destroying thousands of buildings and farms. At least 7,000 people have been evacuated so far.
Though INVOLCAN has yet to announce how they are using drone technology for this disaster, the institute does use drones regularly. On October 14, INVOLCAN posted a drone video of what they referred to as a “lava tsunami”. In other recent volcanic events, like the Kīlauea eruption in Hawaii in June of 2018, drones were used to help emergency crews create live plans of action. By getting a drone above the lava flow, scientists can remain at a safe distance while still collecting predictive data. This information can be used to plan evacuation routes within safe time frames. The drones are also used to collect atmospheric data that is vital for volcanologists in understanding volcanic behaviors.
Drones can also be used after a lava flow incident to assess damages and see if any victims are trapped by the walls of debris left behind. In the southwestern town of Todoque, La Palma, a drone was used to discover a pack of dogs trapped in a walled-in yard. Unable to get food and water because of the dangers outside of the wall, the dogs had become severely malnourished. The lava flow also made it unsafe for anyone to get to the dogs for retrieval. So authorities contacted the technology and communication company Ticom Soluciones along with the search and rescue company, Volcanic Life, to assist in the canine emergency.
Ticom and Volcanic Life have been coordinating drone missions to locate in-need animals like the ones spotted in Todoque. Once the drone locates the animals, the team gets help from veterinary consults. In most cases, there is little that can be done. One thing they can do is use drones to lower food and water down to the trapped animals. It may seem unnecessary to some when humans are facing the threat of a raging lava river. But, when humans can show compassion to helpless animals, it helps to raise spirits and shows that there is hope to be found. Ticom and Volcanic Life said they will continue using drones to assist animals and anyone in need during this crisis as long as possible.