Satellite Captures Stunning Gravity Waves Over La Palma From Cumbre Vieja Eruption

Ash Over La Palma Annotated

October 4, 2021

As the Cumbre Vieja eruption continued into its second week, satellites captured images of some remarkable moments in the skies above the volcano.

Since the Cumbre Vieja volcano began erupting on September 19, 2021, most of the compelling activity has happened on the ground. For nearly two weeks, thick sheets of lava burned through farmland, roads, and homes on the southwestern part of La Palma, one of the Canary Islands.

The atmospheric effects of the eruption had been less dramatic until the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute (INVOLCAN) reported an increase in explosive activity that started on October 2. In the midst of the elevated activity, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured an image (above) of a dense plume of ash streaming south on October 4, 2021. According to the Toulouse Volcanic Ash Advisory Center, the plume reached 3 kilometers (2 miles) on October 4, posing a hazard to aircraft in the area. Despite the increase in activity, volcanologists still rank Cumbre Vieja’s explosivity as “moderate”—a 2 out of 8 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index.

The eruption has not been energetic enough to inject large amounts of ash and gases into the stratosphere, where they can have strong and lasting effects on weather and climate. However, it has been strong enough to produce a rising column of emissions that helped form the remarkable pattern in the clouds shown in the image below. The MODIS on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired the image on October 1, 2021.

Cloud Rings Over La Palma Annotated

October 1, 2021

The bullseye-shaped cloud was the product of a rising column of superheated ash and gases known as the eruption column. The buoyant column of water vapor and other gases rose rapidly upward until colliding with a drier, warmer layer of air at roughly 5.3 kilometers (3.3 miles) altitude, according to INVOLCAN. The unusually warm air above—a temperature inversion—functioned like a lid, preventing the volcanic plume from rising any higher. Instead, it flattened out and spread horizontally.

Since volcanic eruptions typically have natural ebbs and flows in their intensity, pulses in the upward flow of the volcanic column created concentric gravity waves as they hit the temperature inversion and spread outward. The process is similar to the way a stone dropped in a pond creates ripples that spread outward.

NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview.

35 Comments on "Satellite Captures Stunning Gravity Waves Over La Palma From Cumbre Vieja Eruption"

  1. Gravity waves from a vulcanic eruption?! I’ll see that when I believe it.

  2. Gravity waves? Shockwave perhaps, or or how the gasses are forming. I’m kinda wondering how this got through

    • You could have taken this opportunity to read the article and learn something. Instead you chose to comment to display your ignorance.

      About a dozen people chose just like you. Sadly, several of them did so after numerous smarter people in the comments already pointed out that gravity waves and gravitational waves are not the same.

  3. This article was written by a moron…

    Please read up on gravitational waves, it’s one of the greatest discoveries in the past 50 years…

    • Gravity waves is not the same as gravitational waves. There is a link in the article to the definition of gravity waves.

      Indeed SciTechDaily frequently has articles covering the latest research related to gravitational waves.

  4. I think you may want to fact check your sources on “gravity waves”. Pressure waves sure, but gravity waves? Yeah, I don’t think so.

  5. Those look like pressure waves. You wouldn’t see gravity waves.

  6. Gravity waves are undetectable from any object on Earth.

    We have barely detected gravity waves produced by colliding supermassive super dense celestial bodies…

  7. Robert Painter | October 7, 2021 at 4:20 am | Reply

    Not gravity waves. They are the result of pulses (apparent in local video footage) of ash being blasted into the atmosphere.

    Gravity waves? From NASA?! I expect better.


  9. “Gravity waves” as reported here is a seriously absurd and a ridiculous waste of bandwidth! The author needs to apologize to anyone who read this. It appears that the only science the author ever encountered was “throwing a stone into a lake.”

  10. Lmao. “Gravity waves”??
    Could’ve just as well say it created a black hole also.

  11. The only reason I clicked on this was to read the comments. LOL! My thoughts exactly. NOT gravitational waves AT ALL. Pressure/sound/shock waves is more like it. Bad writing my friend.

  12. Christopher Murphy | October 7, 2021 at 9:53 am | Reply

    To everyone complaining: The article is victim to unfortunate legacy naming in meteorology. The term “gravity” is correct, but has literally nothing to do with gravitational waves due to the force of gravity. Please see the cited link in the article.

  13. While I agree that titling this as gravity waves is clickbait, the other guys in this comment section need to read up on the difference between gravity waves and gravitational waves. These are indeed gravity waves.

  14. Kith Schoomacher | October 7, 2021 at 10:56 am | Reply

    Other sign of NASA incompetence.

  15. Eamonn O'Brien-Strain | October 7, 2021 at 11:12 am | Reply

    Most of the comments on this page are mixing up *gravitational* waves with *gravity* waves. One is a warping of space-time, the other is a fluid dynamics phenomena. See

    So the observed behavior from the volcano may plausibly be gravity waves.

    • Or jusssss “waves”; atmospheric or otherwise etcetera🙄? By the way when it comes to show called space-time can you list and name for me the actual properties that make up ‘SPACE-(tiiiiime)’ which can be bent or warped?

      • Eamonn O'Brien-Strain | October 9, 2021 at 10:30 am | Reply

        Yes, you’re right, calling these just “waves” would be clearer given that the common types of waves such as normal ocean waves and certain common types of cloud ripples are also gravity waves.

        As regards gravitational waves, the property of space-time that is warped is its curvature. In normal life this is seen in how the path of a thrown object in flight is bent (i.e. what we perceive as gravity), or how the clocks in GPS satellites in orbit run at a slightly different rates than the clocks down here on Earth.

  16. There are two kinds of gravity waves. The kind they are discussing are an atmospheric phenomenon. The kind that come from extremely massive objects colliding in space are not what this article is about.

  17. Gravity waves!? Hahaha😂💦💦💦 what a joke! We don’t even know what gravity is and you junk science clowns are making up crap called gravity waves. Even LIGO is nothing but a BS black hole boondoggle of wasteful spending!

  18. Read the linked article about “gravity waves” which are a fluid dynamics phenomenon and aren’t related to gravitational waves at all 🙄. Definitely not what I expected

  19. Hey geniuses. He said gravity waves not gravitational waves. Two different phenomenon

  20. The term gravity waves used here refers to fluid dynamics, rather than astrophysics. However, it appears both the author and many of the people commenting are unaware of the term being used in other contexts.

  21. more like gravy waves

  22. This article was good for a laugh.

    Almost have to wonder though… if methane gas ejected from a bodily function, into a dense fog (naturally, in a laboratory setting, under the right conditions) could also produce gravitational waves observable to the naked eye with no other notable distortions to visible matter….hmmm

  23. This writer should never be allowed to write again. Shame on you and this website

  24. Universal Gravity is a theory, not a fact, regarding the natural law of attraction. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered. The Universal Theory of Gravity is often taught in schools as a fact, when in fact it is not even a good theory…. So there’s no such THING AS GRAVITY WAVES.. cause gravity is a THEORY

  25. Pressure waves. Article begs a rewrite. La Palma beg a total and rapid evacuation. If this thing keeps barfing lava, and it splits/collapses, it could go all Krakatoa and the saucer people are saying that could let go a major tsunami that could cross the atlantic and that would be Bad. Very very bad.

  26. I learned all about gravity waves today. Thanks, great article, didn’t know about gravity waves before. For a second, I got mistaken them for gravitation waves, which would have been a far out claim.

  27. That isn’t called gravity waves you need to check your science

  28. It’s amazing how many of the commenters missed a learning opportunity. For those of you who missed the link for a definition of gravity waves – here it is for easy access:

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