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Copernicus: Continuous emissions from the La Palma volcano affect all of Europe and the Caribbean

Copernicus: Continuous emissions from the La Palma volcano affect all of Europe and the Caribbean

As part of ongoing work on atmospheric composition and air quality around the world, researchers from the Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service monitor the effects of the volcanic eruption at Cumbre Vieja in La Palma, Canary Islands. This caused significant amounts of sulfur dioxide to be transported through North Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean.

The CAMS forecast for sulfur dioxide is at 00 GMT on October 19 and is valid for 12 GMT. EAMS predictions are based on satellite observations of total SO2 plumes (that is, the number of SO2 particles per unit area in a column extending from the surface to the upper part of the atmosphere). Source: Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service / ECMWF

looking for Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) has followed the Cumbre Vieja volcano in La Palma into the atmosphere since it first erupted on September 19, 2021. Large amounts of sulfur dioxide (SO2) have moved over thousands of kilometers because of this. The volcano, located on the Spanish island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, erupted for the first time in 50 years, causing widespread devastation with numerous lava flows and showing no signs of abating after nearly a month of activity.

The Efficiency Assurance Management System, conducted by the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecast on behalf of the European Commission with funding from the European Union, constantly monitors air quality around the world and provides users with information on past atmospheric compositions and forecasts for the coming days. Using data from satellite observations, the EAS can assess many aspects of global air quality, including the effects of natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions, forest fires and desert dust. The combination of observational data and a detailed model of the Earth’s atmosphere allows the EAM system to predict atmospheric composition 5 days in advance. Since the Cumbre Vieja volcano first erupted in September, CAMS researchers have been monitoring the movement and chemical evolution of sulfur dioxide from the volcano as it was transported across North Africa, Europe and the Atlantic Ocean. Although the forecast may show atmospheric sulfur dioxide, it does not show or provide information on volcanic ash, but the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAACs) do.

When Cumbre Vieja volcano first erupted on September 19, 2021, emissions mainly moved through northern Africa and southern Europe, including Spain and Portugal, but eventually reached northern and western Europe.

CAMS analysis of dust concentration in Saharan dust from the Sahara (left) and sulfate concentration (right) in the Caribbean on October 9. Author: Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service / ECMWF.

In early October, the winds changed direction and CAMS tracked sulfur dioxide about 5,000 kilometers west into the Caribbean. In addition to sulfur dioxide, the CAS provides information on atmospheric particles, both in terms of concentration and in the aerosol optical depth (AOD). The chemical conversion of SO2 to sulfate aerosols was included in the CAMS model and AOD EAM analyzes for this period revealed sulfate aerosol transfer with sulfur dioxide. Dust transport from the desert across the Atlantic coincides with volcanic discharge, resulting in haze and poor air quality in Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean, and visibility between October 8 and 10 decreased to eight kilometers or less. Evaluation of EAMS predictions for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations showed increased values ​​in Puerto Rico, consistent with on-site measurements.

Mark Barrington, Senior Investigator at ECMWF, Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service, comments: “Comber Vieja has had an ongoing eruption for over a month with significant impacts on atmospheric composition, as well as the local devastation of the lava flow. In an assurance management system Efficiency (CAMS), we monitor air quality around the world to better understand the effects of naturally occurring events like this.Our monitoring is based on sulfur dioxide satellite observations and assumes the first injection at an altitude of about 5 km.In this case, it seems reasonable to transport over distances Long for emissions across Europe and away from the Caribbean. When the sulfur dioxide cloud is at the height we’ve seen across Europe, the risk of lower air quality is minimal. But when we traced emissions 5,000 km toward the Caribbean, we saw the associated deterioration in air quality. By converting sulfur dioxide into sulfate aerosols, which also coincided with the arrival of dust from the Sahara Desert.”

“Although volcanic eruptions are a natural phenomenon, it is important to monitor the elevation, and foot movements of SO2 to understand any effects on air quality,” he adds.

The Daily Efficiency Assurance Management System forecast predicted sulfur dioxide emissions from recycling to Northern and Western Europe in mid-October. Researchers will continue to monitor air quality in the affected areas for as long as the volcano is active.

Forecast of Total EAMS for Sulfur Dioxide:,57,2021092309&project=classical_south_west_europe&layer_name=composition_so2_totalcolumn

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Forecast of sulfur dioxide CAMS for the Earth’s surface:,57,2021092309&project=classical_south_west_europe&layer_name=composition_so2_surface

Visualize using the app the projected displacement of SO2 from Cumbre Vieja:

More information on challenges in volcanic eruption models:

More information about the Cumbre Vega outbreak:

FIn order to understand and analyze air quality, the Efficiency Assurance Management System recently participated in the update of the World Health Organization’s global guidelines on air quality. Download the report here:

About ECMWF and Copernicus

Copernicus is part of the European Union’s Space Programme, funded by the European Union, the flagship Earth observation programme. The company operates through six thematic services: Atmosphere, Marine, Land, Climate Change, Security and Emergencies. It offers freely available operational data and services that provide users with reliable and up-to-date information about our planet and its environment. The program is coordinated and managed by the European Commission and implemented in partnership with Member States, the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMTSAT), the European Center for Medium Distance Forecasting (ECMWF), European Union agencies, Mercator Océan and more.

ECMWF operates two services of the European Union’s Copernicus Earth Observation Program: the Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS) and the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). They also contribute to the Copernican Emergency Management Service (CEMS), which is implemented by the European Union Joint Research Council (JRC). The European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) is an independent intergovernmental organization supported by 34 countries. It is a 24/7 operational research and service institute that produces and publishes digital weather forecasts to its member states. These data are fully available to the national meteorological services of the member states. The supercomputer facility (and associated data archives) at the ECMWF is one of the largest of its kind in Europe and member states can use 25% of its capacity for their own purposes.

ECMWF has increased the number of places in which it does business. In addition to the main office in the UK and the computing center in Italy, new offices focusing on activities implemented in partnership with the European Union, such as Copernicus, will be located in Bonn, Germany starting in the summer of 2021.

Copernicus Atmosphere Watch Service (B):

Copernicus Climate Change Service website:
More information about Copernicus:

ECMWF: s webb:

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Media connection

Nuria Lopez
Communication | Copernicus contracts and the press
General manager’s office
European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts
Reading, UK | Bologna, Italy
Email: [email protected]
Phone: +44 (0) 118949 9778
Mobile: +44 (0) 7392277523
Twitter: Tweet embed

Bjorn Mogensen
Oxenstierna Communication
+46 708-184298
[email protected]


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