1. Background information:
You have now studied the Mount St Helens eruption of 1980 and the way that the information gained by scientists helped save lives in the Montserrat eruptions beginning in 1995. Now is your chance to be a vulcanologist and make some important decisions that could save lives!
The highest mountain in Spanish territory is Mount Teide in the Canaries. It is a “hot spot” volcano in a chain of islands which have been formed by volcanic action: the eastern isles extinct and the western isles sitting on top of the hot spot, therefore dormant but subject to continuing volcanic eruption at some point. There was a seismic crisis in 2004, with an increase in earthquake activity and the release of sulphur gases suggesting rising magma.
Different agencies failed to agree on the level of risk involved and there was some suggestion that the Canary Islands were not sufficiently well prepared for a major volcanic crisis, if such an event occurs. The main Spanish state agency for seismic risk is the Instituto Geologico Naciónal (link to IGN vulcanology portal centred on the only active volcanoes in Spain, in the Canary Islands).
There are also local interest groups in the Canaries: for example the Multiteide project (supported by the IGN), and the Instituto Volcanológico de Canarias (INVOLCAN) which has famously come into conflict with the IGN, accusing them of “covering up” seismic activity to prevent alarm. IGN in turn has completely side-lined INVOLCAN when it set up the Multiteide project in 2016, adding to the bad feeling between these organisations. (See news story from 2016.)
2. Current position in 2017:
Various reports have been circulating that the seismic activity in the volcano is greater than usual and there are concerns about the level of risk. Here is a news report from Informativos TVC (Canaries television news) on 10 October 2017:
We are going to prepare and stage a role play in which some of you will be vulcanologists from rival groups with different information about the current state of the volcano. Others will role play government officials, emergency services coordinators, community leaders, business people, tourism and airline representatives. You must study your role carefully and the prepare your information for the role play, so you know what contribution you need to make to the meeting.
The context will be a Public Meeting to determine the level of public risk and the official response to up-to-date information provided during the meeting – interpreted by vulcanologists – and acted upon by the public officials.
The role play will lead to one of three possible outcomes:
- Continue normal everyday life without any need for further action.
- Announce a campaign of public awareness and preparation for a possible evacuation of areas nearest to the danger.
- Order a state of emergency and an evacuation of the island, requesting Madrid for armed forces assistance.
If you adopted plan 3 and evacuate the whole island but no eruption occured in the next twelve months, the entire tourist economy would collapse.