March 22, 2018
Locals refer to the Canary Islands as the land of eternal spring, because it’s pretty much warm and sunny here year-round. The islands are not named for canary birds, I learned.
We’re currently on the island of Tenerife, the largest and most populous of the Canary Islands. I would just like to point out that Tenerife is shaped like a duck. Has anyone else noticed this?
Yesterday we took a trip to Mt. Teide, the island’s highest point and an active volcano. Teide’s peak (Pico de Teide in Spanish) is about 3,700 meters (12,000 feet) above sea level. While not very tall by mountain standards, from the base of the seafloor to the tip of its peak, Teide is 7,500 meters (24,600 feet) tall, making it the third tallest volcano in the world (Mauna Kea is the tallest).
Volcanoes on the seafloor started spewing the magma that would eventually form Tenerife about 20 – 50 million years ago. The underwater mountains grew until they broke the surface about seven million years ago, forming three separate islands joined underwater. Then, about three million years ago, another volcanic cycle started, which built up enough rock to unite the three islands into one.
Eruptions kept building the island, but at some point the highest parts collapsed, leaving behind what is known as the Las Cañadas caldera. Then, about 200,000 years ago, eruptions created Mt. Teide and Pico Viejo (another volcano slightly shorter than Teide) inside the caldera.
The base of Teide flows into the northern side of the caldera, but the southern caldera rim is strikingly abrupt. It looks a bit like the Grand Canyon.
The formation of Tenerife.
Credit: Fossiliferous – Own work, CC BY 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons.
To get to Teide, we drove from Puerto de la Cruz on the north coast up through the mountains to Teide National Park, which encompasses the Las Cañadas caldera and a little extra. The base of the caldera is about 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) high, so we had to pass through low-lying clouds to get there. It was like being in a dream!
Going up that high that quickly is not easy. My ears were popping the entire time and when we got there, my sunscreen squirted out of the bottle as soon as I opened it. A banana also exploded inside my backpack.
A forest of Canary Island pines makes up the island’s treeline. As soon as we got through the forest we entered the park, where the trees disappeared and the landscape looked barren and surreal. It reminded me of the American Southwest and also what I imagine Mars to look like.
Once you get to the caldera, you take a cable car up to Teide’s peak (or as close as you can get, about 200 meters (650 feet) below the summit.
From Puerto de la Cruz, where we’re staying, we see the northern slopes of Teide, which are covered in snow. But the cable car is on the south side, inside the caldera, where it’s basically just bare rock – a total surprise for me.
Here’s the cable car coming down for us, and then our slightly scary ride up the mountain! Those tongues of dark rock you see are lava flows from an eruption of Teide around the year 850 CE.
When we get to the top, we have stunning views of the Las Cañadas caldera and the rest of the island. You can see those black lavas from the 850 CE eruption more clearly here. From the base of the mountain, they just look like big piles of rock; but from up here, you can see how they flowed down into the valley floor – it’s incredible!
Teide is still active, and we even got to see a little steam rising from the top of the vent and smell the sulfur!
Now we’ve hiked around to the southwest side of Teide to get a glimpse of Pico Viejo (Old Peak) – the caldera you see here. In the distance, you can see two other Canary Islands – La Gomera (left) and La Palma (way in the back).
Stay tuned for a recap of our visit to Izaña Atmospheric Observatory, coming tomorrow!
—Lauren Lipuma is AGU’s public information specialist and science writer. She is attending the AGU Chapman Conference on stratospheric aerosols in Tenerife, Spain. Find more of Lauren’s stories from this meeting on The Field and read about research presented at the meeting on GeoSpace. See photos from the conference on AGU’s Instagram. Follow Lauren on twitter at @Tenacious_She.