What is and how is a volcanic lightning formed?


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Today, Wednesday, October 13, it is 25 days since the volcano of Old Summit, on the island of The Palm, will erupt. This phenomenon has already doubled the volume of materials emitted and the damage caused by the Teneguía in 1971 and, at the moment, it does not seem that it is going to stop.

According to the Copernicus Satellite data, the La Palma volcano has already devastated more than 656 hectares and has affected a total of 1,458 buildings. The stream that worries the most at this time is the one located further north, which was born from the collapse of the north flank that collapsed last Saturday.

However, in recent days we have witnessed a large number of phenomena related to the volcano. During the eruption, the different mouths have expelled lava, ash, smoke, clouds of toxic gases and pyroclasts and a large number of earthquakes have been experienced on the island. Last Monday, one more natural event was added to all this: a volcanic lightning.

What are volcanic rays

Last Monday, Canary Islands Volcanological Institute (INVOLCAN) published on his Twitter account a video captured by one of his professionals in which a volcanic lightning can be seen.

The volcanic rays They are electrical discharges caused by volcanic eruptions. As the Canarian institution itself explained in the tweet, the ash and pyroclasts thrown by the volcano are neutral, that is, they do not have an electrical charge and, therefore, by themselves they cannot generate lightning. However, friction between volcanic materials in a hostile environment can cause the release of ions in the volcanic plume that produce these impressive phenomena. The separation of positive and negative charges gives rise to a large potential difference causing discharge.

As explained David calvo, spokesperson for INVOLCAN, on Radio Televisión Canaria, this type of lightning occurs in “many volcanoes” and during Monday night “several of them” could be observed on the Cumbre Vieja volcano. However, they are normal electric shocks that do not affect air quality in any way.

But do they occur in all kinds of volcanoes?

The answer is no. For a volcanic lightning to occur, the erupting volcano must have a nature of explosiveness and some plume dimensions like those of the La Palma volcano. And it is that, although at first the Canarian volcano presents a strombolian-type eruption, characterized, among other things, by being not very violent, the activity peaks registered at some moments have made possible the formation of these Ray that have been appreciated during the night of Monday.

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