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Underwater Volcano Still Erupting
This natural-color satellite image, collected on February 10, 2012, shows the site of the El Hierro eruption.
Credit: NASA

An underwater eruption off the Canary Island of El Hierro has been going on for more than four months, with volcanologists watching the spectacle to see if it might generate a new island.

El Hierro, the youngest of the Canary Islands, lies 290 miles (460 kilometers) west of the coast of Morocco and Western Sahara. El Hierro last erupted in 1793, according to some historical records, and the area has the greatest concentration of young vents in the Canary Islands. The new eruption is occuring just off the coast, near the fishing village of La Restinga.

NASA's Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite captured a picture of the ongoing eruption on Feb. 10. The bright aquamarine waters visible in the images indicated a high concentration of volcanic material, including steaming lava fragments, bits of rock and heated gas. Immediately above the vent is a patch of brown water that can resemble a turbulent hot tub when the eruption is strongest, according to a NASA statement.

Measurements of the sea floor by the Instituto Oceanográfico Español indicate that the summit of the volcanic cone growing over the vent is now only 390 feet (120 meters) beneath the ocean surface — 30 feet (10 m) higher than it was in mid-January. The height of the erupting cone is about 690 feet (210 m) from the former ocean bottom, with a total volume over 512 million cubic feet (145 million cubic meters) of new material. Images of the new cone emerged in November 2011.