Galapagos Eruption on Fernandina Island

This Galapagos eruption took place in one of the youngest and most active volcanoes of our planet, it allowed us to see its great force some weeks ago.

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The Fernandina Galapagos Island volcano started erupting in the early morning of Friday, May 13th, 2005.

Even from as far as Baltra Island you could see a huge column of clouds which seemed too high for this time of the year.

Hours later, the patrol plane from the Marine Reserve flew over one of the most incredible natural shows of fire: a volcanic eruption.

On Fernandina Island its volcano was once again active, after a period of relative calmness, since April 1995.

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This Galapagos eruption report describes more about this colossal volcano and its latest volcanic activity:

General Galapagos Fernandina Island Information

  • Fernandina Island is the westernmost Island of the Galapagos Archipelago. It is one of the youngest and most active volcanoes of our planet.
  • There are no human settlements on the Island.
  • Fernandina Island holds only one visitor site: Punta Espinoza (located on the northeast corner of the island).
  • This shield volcano raises 1,476 meters above sea level (4,842 feet)
  • Previous Galapagos eruption took place between January and April 1995.
  • Island volcanoes behave very differently than continental Ecuador volcanoes
  • The overall amount of gas is low (in comparison to continental volcanoes). Thus, eruptions lack high explosiveness (like Reventador, Mount Saint Helen's, Etna, etc).
  • In island volcanoes, lava does not come out from a single vent. Eruptions on island volcanoes are mostly through fissure eruptions. These fissures can be radial or circumferential.
  • The current eruption started on Friday, May 13th, 2005. A circumferential fissure located on the southern flank of the volcano is the source of molten rock.
  • Height of the fissure lies at about 1,100 meters above sea level (4,000 feet).
  • Current fissure has a length of 6 Km (4 miles). The Galapagos eruption looks like a linear water fountain that bursts out the molten rock upwards.
  • Maximum height of the fountaining lava has reached 8-10 meters (25-30 feet).
  • The current fissure is located on the outer flanks of the volcano (as opposed towards the caldera floor). This is why the lava, once flowing, slopes down the volcano.
  • When fissures are small (short), eruptions are prolonged because lava has a small area of escape.
  • This is why 1995's Galapagos eruption lasted almost 4 months.
  • Then, once the small fissure opened, a spatter cone was formed and it held the molten rock as the eruption continued (pretty much like a very active melting pot of the most orange/red gravy you'll ever see).
  • A month later, the walls of the cone broke, and the lava started flowing to the coastline. It took one week for the lava to reach the ocean.
  • When fissures are long (like that of the current eruption) the eruption tends to be short, since all the molten rock has a long area to escape.
  • The flows did run for about 7 Km (4.5 miles) but not enough material to reach the shoreline. The flows stopped about 5 Km (3 miles) from the coast.
  • The crust of these lava flows cools off rather slowly, and it creates an isolating layer. Underneath, lava continues liquid for at least one more month until it totally cools off.

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Galapagos Eruption Questions and Answers:

Is an eruption dangerous?
By all means. All eruptions are dangerous.

Nevertheless, there are eruptions less dangerous than others, like those of island volcanoes. These are not too explosive.

What happens with plant and animal wildlife of the Island?
Nothing survives the force of a lava flow. The main reason is the high temperature (it can be as hot as 2,000°C).

Eruptions are normal processes in island biology. They are inevitable and hard to predict when they will occur.

Is it good to have eruptions?
Certainly. Eruptions should be looked like a "cleaning evolutionary mechanism". Although, nothing survives, this new land allows natural replacement of species (i.e.: climax versus pioneers).

It is at this level where natural selection acts on those who survive and those who arrive.

Why are there so many clouds when the lava reaches the water?
The abrupt temperature change cools off lava almost immediately, but the high temperature of the lava evaporates sea water at super sonic speeds.

These clouds are 90% water vapor, and 10% volcanic gas.

How long will the eruption last?
Hard to say. What Santa Cruz Ship and the luxury Isabela II Yacht witnessed over that weekend is a sign that eruptions are the hardest things to forecast.

For example, the M/V Santa Cruz saw the flows at 04h00 on Saturday May 14th and the Yacht Isabela II saw very little activity on Sunday evening, May 15th.

The main fissure has ceased all volcanic activity. As the lava continues to slowly move under the already formed crust, some may break out and it would seem that eruption continues.

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This can probably be seen for the next two weeks. Due to the massiveness of Fernandina, and the location of where the ship may be, these localized bursts will be invisible to the naked eye.

When will the next Galapagos eruption be?
We wish we knew. It is impossible to determine exactly when it will happen. Island volcanoes give very little warnings. Plus, these are very fast events. The Galapagos volcanoes, however, have eruptions every 6 years.

Any volcano can become reactivated. Galapagos Islands volcanoes examples of activity (without permanent eruptions) include, Sierra Negra, Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Roca Redonda, and in Ecuador we include the volcanoes of: Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Antisana, Cotacachi, Sangay, Sumaco, among others.

Recommended Reading

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