Photos Capture the Unfolding Volcano Crisis in St. Vincent

Photos Capture the Unfolding Volcano Crisis in St. Vincent

Ash rises into the air as La Soufrière volcano erupts on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent on Tuesday, April 13.
Ash rises into the air as La Soufrière volcano erupts on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent on Tuesday, April 13.
Photo: Orvil Samuel (AP)

Thousands of people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have fled their homes as the La Soufrière volcano, located in the northwest of the island of St. Vincent, continues to erupt this week. The volcano, which had been dormant since 1979, shot up a column of ash 20,000 feet into the air on Friday, following months of rumblings that experts say foretold a big explosion.

La Soufrière let out a massive explosion on April 12 that created a dense and fast flow of lava and ash down the side of the volcano. “It’s destroying everything in its path,” Erouscilla Joseph, director of the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center, told the AP. “Anybody who would have not heeded the evacuation, they need to get out immediately.”

Writing about climate change, renewable energy, and Big Oil/Big Gas/Big Everything for Earther. Formerly of the Center for Public Integrity & Nexus Media News. I'm very tall & have a very short dog.

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Devastation Seen From Space

Devastation Seen From Space

The island of St. Vincent before the eruption, April 8 (left) and after, April 13 (right). False-color satellite images show how the island’s plant life (appearing in red) has been covered by ash (the darkened areas).
The island of St. Vincent before the eruption, April 8 (left) and after, April 13 (right). False-color satellite images show how the island’s plant life (appearing in red) has been covered by ash (the darkened areas).
Image: modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2021), processed by ESA

The European Space Agency released satellite images on Friday captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission showing a before-and-after of the island blanketed in the ash cloud, with the red areas representing plant density. In the second image, much of the formerly red areas are now darkened by ash. NASA’s Earth Observatory is also tracking the ash plume from La Soufrière, which its Terra satellite measured at an altitude of 12 miles (20 km). Winds have carried ash and debris to islands near St. Vincent, including Barbados, Grenada, and Saint Lucia.

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Volcanoes and Cooling

Volcanoes and Cooling

Plumes of ash rise from the La Soufrière volcano as seen from Chateaubelair, Friday, April 9.
Plumes of ash rise from the La Soufrière volcano as seen from Chateaubelair, Friday, April 9.
Photo: Orvil Samuel (AP)

According to NASA, the ongoing explosion at La Soufrière has already caused between 0.4 and 0.6 teragrams of sulfur dioxide to be distributed in the upper atmosphere—more than any other Caribbean volcano on record. Some volcanic eruptions can have a cooling effect on the climate, as sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere can reflect radiation from the Sun back into space. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, one of the largest eruptions in modern history, sent a 20-million-metric-ton cloud of sulfur dioxide more than 22 miles into the atmosphere, which made the planet around 0.7 degrees F cooler for the next three years. (The explosion also temporarily shifted rain patterns in Asia.) But, experts say, La Soufrière is unlikely to have this kind of impact: “The current thinking is that a volcano needs to inject at least 5 teragrams of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to have measurable climate impacts,” Michigan Tech volcanologist Simon Carn told NASA.

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Thousands of Evacuations, Water Scarce

Thousands of Evacuations, Water Scarce

People clean volcanic ash from the red roof of a home on the western side of St. Vincent on Monday, April 12.
People clean volcanic ash from the red roof of a home on the western side of St. Vincent on Monday, April 12.
Photo: Orvil Samuel (AP)

The La Soufrière eruption is creating an escalating a humanitarian crisis on the ground. While no casualties have been reported as a direct consequence of the explosion, thousands of people have been displaced and even more are affected across the island as the volcano has continued to rumble this week. The UN said Monday that the entire population of St. Vincent was left without clean water and electricity following Friday’s eruption, and officials say ash is continuing to contaminate water supplies. Meanwhile, a report issued by the World Health Organization and The Pan American Health Organization on Tuesday said that between 16,000 and 20,000 islanders were evacuated as a result of the explosion. More than 4,000 people were living in nearly 90 temporary shelters, and more than 2,000 said they were temporarily living with family and friends, the report said.

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Fears of a Covid-19 Spike

Fears of a Covid-19 Spike

People collect water not contaminated by volcanic ash on the western side of St. Vincent on Monday, April 12.
People collect water not contaminated by volcanic ash on the western side of St. Vincent on Monday, April 12.
Photo: Orvil Samuel (AP)

The coronavirus is complicating evacuations, especially since St. Vincent and the Grenadines is part of a large swath of the world that lacks access to vaccines, in what’s being dubbed a global “vaccine apartheid.” The country only got its first shipment of vaccines two days before the first volcanic eruption. Government officials say that they are worried the evacuations and ongoing devastation may cause a new spike in covid-19 cases on the island, especially given the water shortage.

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An Ongoing Crisis

An Ongoing Crisis

A man rides his bicycle along the main Black Rock road, covered with ash coming from the eruption of La Soufrière volcano in the neighboring island of St. Vincent, on the outskirts of Bridgetown, Barbados, on Sunday, April 11.
A man rides his bicycle along the main Black Rock road, covered with ash coming from the eruption of La Soufrière volcano in the neighboring island of St. Vincent, on the outskirts of Bridgetown, Barbados, on Sunday, April 11.
Photo: Chris Brandis (AP)

And the crisis could keep dragging on. Experts say the volcano could keep erupting for weeks, and these eruption patterns are similar to the volcano’s 1902 eruption, which killed 1,600 people. Even after the volcano goes quiet, the ash could keep falling and recirculating around St. Vincent and neighboring islands.

“Unfortunately, the worst-case scenario is this can go on for weeks because of the changes and the dynamics of this system,” Erouscilla Joseph, director of the Seismic Research Centre, told NPR. “We have to keep monitoring the seismicity associated with the volcano and advise based on that.”

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Writing about climate change, renewable energy, and Big Oil/Big Gas/Big Everything for Earther. Formerly of the Center for Public Integrity & Nexus Media News. I'm very tall & have a very short dog.

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