Volcanologists search for answers as Azores island continues to shake

The lush volcanic mid-Atlantic island of Sao Jorge, where she grew up, was rocked by more than 14,000 small earthquakes over seven days.

Viveiros and other experts fear the tremors, which have reached magnitudes of up to 3.3, could trigger a volcanic eruption for the first time since 1808, or a powerful earthquake.

“My house is located on an active volcanic system,” said Viveiros, who works for the region’s CIVISA seismo-volcanic monitoring center.

“When (something happens) in our house, we have to have a little composure so that our feelings don’t affect our thinking,” she added. “But the feelings are there because this is my home, my people.”

Viveiros carried on his back a yellow machine to measure soil gases in Sao Jorge, an island in the Azores archipelago, an autonomous region of Portugal.

Soil gases, such as CO2 and sulfur, are indicators of volcanic activity, and Viveiros and his team have been battling Sao Jorge’s rain and high winds for days to find answers. So far, levels remain normal.

The sudden increase in seismic activity in Sao Jorge is reminiscent of earthquakes detected before the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on the Spanish island of La Palma last year, about 1,400 km (870 miles) to the south -east of the Azores.

In 85 days, this eruption destroyed thousands of properties and crops.

Viveiros traveled to La Palma at the time to support the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute and monitor soil gases there, and said Sao Jorge’s volcanic system was similar to that of the Spanish island.

“One of the possible scenarios on the table is that we see something similar to what happened in La Palma,” she said after monitoring soil gases on land used for grazing. cows.

Teams of Spanish and international experts are ready to travel to Sao Jorge if necessary, she added.

CIVISA raised the Volcanic Alert to Level 4 on Wednesday, meaning there is a “real possibility” the volcano could erupt.

Azores President Jose Bolieiro said the earthquakes that hit Sao Jorge in recent days are double those recorded in the region as a whole last year.

“There is clearly an anomaly,” he told reporters.

Although authorities said the eruption was not imminent, around 1,500 people left the island by air or sea in recent days. Many do not know when they will be able to return.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony, Guillermo Martinez and Pedro Nunes; Editing by Pravin Char)

Edward K. Thompson