La Palma’s Resurgence: Recovery and Reconstruction on a Volcanic Landscape

by François Dupont
La Palma Recovery

Upper Image: Captured on February 13, 2016, before the eruption, by an astronaut from the International Space Station. Lower Image: Taken on August 18, 2023, by an astronaut from the International Space Station.

Two years subsequent to Cumbre Vieja’s eruption in the Canary Islands, infrastructure restoration, including road rebuilding, is evident.

These images of La Palma island, a part of Spain’s Canary Islands situated approximately 480 kilometers (300 miles) from the coasts of Morocco and Western Sahara, were taken from the International Space Station (ISS) orbiting over the North Atlantic Ocean. La Palma features a basaltic shield volcano structure, with two main volcanic formations: the ancient, collapsed Caldera de Taburiente and the younger, active Cumbre Vieja.

The eruption from September to December 2021 on Cumbre Vieja’s southwestern flank was characterized by significant lava flows, lava fountains, and ash clouds, continuing for roughly 85 days. This period allowed ISS astronauts to capture imagery of the ash plumes and the glowing lava flows at night.

The eruption resulted in lava and ash spreading over an area exceeding 12 square kilometers (5 square miles), reaching 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the volcanic fissure to the coastline. This natural disaster inflicted damage on over 3,000 structures, several banana plantations, and led to the discoloration of pine forests.

The provided images, from February 2016 (top) and August 2023 (bottom), contrast the landscape before and after the eruption. In the ensuing two years, road reconstruction is visible as slender, pale lines traversing the lava. These roads link Los Llanos de Aridane with Puerto Naos and other localities. The eruption’s fissure is noticeable in the photographs as a distinct, bright line on the volcano’s slope.

While not discernible in these images, vegetation like sparse trees and shrubs, including the fire-resistant Canary Island pine (Pinus canariensis), continue to thrive in the ash-covered terrain. This endemic species to the Canary Islands has adapted to rely on heat for releasing seeds from its resin-sealed pine cones.

Astronaut photograph ISS069-E-62382, captured on August 18, 2023, utilized a Nikon D5 digital camera with a 400 millimeter focal length. Similarly, astronaut photograph ISS046-E-40929, from February 13, 2016, was taken with a Nikon D4 digital camera, also using a 400 millimeter focal length. These images come from the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit at Johnson Space Center. They were taken by members of the Expedition 69 and Expedition 46 crews, respectively. Post-processing included cropping, contrast enhancement, and the removal of lens artifacts. The International Space Station Program, as part of the ISS National Lab, supports these efforts, allowing astronauts to capture valuable Earth images for scientific and public benefit, and ensuring their availability online. The caption is credited to Cadan Cummings, Jacobs, JETS II Contract at NASA-JSC.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about La Palma Recovery

What do the ISS photographs of La Palma depict?

The ISS photographs show La Palma, an island in Spain’s Canary Islands, both before and after the Cumbre Vieja volcano eruption. They illustrate the significant changes in the landscape, including the aftermath of lava flows and ash deposits, and the efforts in reconstructing the island’s infrastructure.

Where is La Palma located?

La Palma is part of the Canary Islands, an archipelago belonging to Spain. It is situated approximately 480 kilometers (300 miles) off the coast of Morocco and Western Sahara in the North Atlantic Ocean.

What was the impact of the Cumbre Vieja eruption on La Palma?

The Cumbre Vieja eruption, which lasted for about 85 days from September to December 2021, resulted in extensive lava flows and ash clouds. It covered over 12 square kilometers (5 square miles) of land, damaged more than 3,000 buildings, affected banana plantations, and caused discoloration of pine forests.

How has La Palma recovered since the eruption?

In the two years following the eruption, significant recovery efforts have taken place, including the reconstruction of roads. These newly built roads reconnect towns like Los Llanos de Aridane with Puerto Naos and other nearby communities.

What is unique about the Canary Island pine found on La Palma?

The Canary Island pine (Pinus canariensis) is a fire-resistant, serotinous conifer endemic to the Canary Islands. It uniquely relies on heat from fires or high temperatures to melt the resin around its pine cones, facilitating the release of viable seeds. This adaptation is evident even amidst the ash-deposited areas of La Palma.

More about La Palma Recovery

  • La Palma Volcanic Eruption Overview
  • Canary Islands Geography and Location
  • Effects of Volcanic Eruptions on Ecosystems
  • Post-Eruption Infrastructure Recovery
  • Canary Island Pine Adaptation and Ecology

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EduardoG December 21, 2023 - 10:36 pm

the article misses some details on the impact on local communities, would’ve loved more info on that.

NatureLover December 22, 2023 - 1:58 am

It’s amazing how nature adapts, like the Canary Island pine, surviving in such harsh conditions, really fascinating!

Alex_92 December 22, 2023 - 3:38 am

the photos must be stunning, capturing such drastic changes, hats off to the astronauts for these shots!

SandraH December 22, 2023 - 5:31 am

interesting read but I think there’s a typo in the part about the distance of La Palma from Morocco, should be checked.

Mike Johnson December 22, 2023 - 2:03 pm

wow, this article really captures the scale of the eruption on La Palma, Didn’t know the island had gone through so much, but it’s great to see it recovering!


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