On December 10, 2013 the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite flew across the central Atlantic Ocean and captured a true-color image of the Canary Islands.
Lying off of the coast of Western Sahara and Morocco, the islands were created by successive submarine volcanic eruptions which raised the ocean floor vertically until some of land rose above sea level. The oldest islands lie in the east and the youngest in the west. From east to west, the major islands seen in this image are: Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Gomera, La Palmera and El Hierro.
While the creation of the islands began in the Late Cretaceous Period (70 – 80 million years ago), active volcanic activity continues. In 2011, a spectacular submarine eruption occurred just off the shore of El Hierro. The volcano became quiet again, but very recently increasing earthquakes and changing height of El Hierro suggested the volcano may again be entering an active eruptive phase.
On December 27 the island’s volcano monitoring agency had raised the volcanic eruption risk for El Hierro to “yellow” – a code that means increasing activity but no eruption imminent. That afternoon a magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck offshore at El Hierro. The epicenter was 9 miles (15 km) deep, and it was one of the largest quakes ever recorded at the island.