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

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.

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.

Earth ObservatoryNASAVolcano
Comments ( 34 )
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  • Jim Oss

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

  • Sky

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

    • Victor Walker

      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.

  • Jake

    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…

    • Mike O'Neill

      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.

  • Fauci Junk Science
  • Kevin

    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.

  • Steve

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

  • Roger

    Gravity waves are undetectable from any object on Earth.

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

  • Robert Painter

    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.

  • Chris

    THAT IS NOT GRAVITY WAVES !!!

  • Alan

    “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.”

  • David

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

  • Jay T

    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.

  • Christopher Murphy

    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 weather.gov link in the article.

  • Shawn

    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.

  • Kith Schoomacher

    Other sign of NASA incompetence.

  • Eamonn O'Brien-Strain

    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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity_wave

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

    • Jon Mcpeak

      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

        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.

  • Notworried

    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.

  • Jon Mcpeak

    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!

  • Frank

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

  • Mick

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

  • Anthony Ho

    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.

  • jak

    more like gravy waves

  • Tom

    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

  • Jason Ord

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

  • Yahsiel

    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

  • Bert33

    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.

  • Michael

    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.

  • Charles j

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