Famara and Los Ajaches are daughters of volcanism, just like Parque Nacional de Timanfaya or the badlands created by the Volcán de la Corona 20,000 years ago. Today we travel through special places on the island: places where public art and scientific research coexist. Ready? Set? Time for lift off!
Can you imagine being able to turn on the light and cook using the heat of Lanzarote’s subsoil? The dream of harnessing geothermal energy of volcanic origin to produce energy is getting closer and closer, thanks to a group of researchers from the Smart Cities Institute of the Public University of Navarra.
Since 31st August last year, the Parque Nacional de Timanfaya has had a prototype thermoelectric generator installed: a small, silent, robust and environmentally friendly device that will be responsible for converting the 170oC temperature recorded two metres underground into electrical energy.
How will it do this? By using the same technology used in hotel refrigerators: thermoelectricity. The initial aim is to generate enough energy to make the Mancha Blanca Visitor and Interpretation Centre and El Diablo Restaurant self-sufficient. Scientific calculations for the project, supported by the Instituto Tecnológico y de Energías Renovables and the Instituto Volcanológico de Canarias, say that Lanzarote’s unusual subsoil temperatures could power two hundred homes on the island.
I’ll bet the name “Montañas de Fuego” (Fire Mountains) makes even more sense now! 🙂 Visitors to the area can see the effects of these geothermal anomalies, the most important in the Canary Islands. A little water introduced into a hole is transformed in tenths of a second into a powerful geyser: a column of steam and hot water that shoots up from the surface of the earth. It is the same ‘fire’ that causes the burning of the gorse that the workers of the National Park put into small ‘ovens’ excavated at a very short distance below the surface that visitors walk on. This is also how one of the jewels of the El Diablo restaurant works: the barbecue oven designed by César Manrique that roasts meat with the island’s telluric breath.
Astronaut Training Base
The European Space Agency has been working on Lanzarote for the last four years to prepare for expeditions to the Moon and Mars. Why here? The reason is to be found in the climate and the geological nature of the island, which makes it an unbeatable place to simulate a base on the Earth’s satellite or the red planet.
Astronaut Matthias Maurer, who will travel to the International Space Station this autumn, trained in Tinguatón in 2017 and noticed how the sharp basalt rocks of some of the overhangs tore one of the gloves of his spacesuit. Had this happened on a real mission, his life would have been in grave danger.
One of the most important jobs of the explorers is to know how to detect the footprint of water. In Lanzarote, they have studied the crusts that cover part of the volcanic tube of La Corona and the Caldera Blanca flows with particular interest, since these are very similar to those recently discovered on Mars and which prove the existence of a flow, signs of fluid circulating on the surface.
Thanks to the agreement signed by the Cabildo de Lanzarote and the European Space Agency until 2022, the island will continue to be a planetary analogue of global importance. On 18th February, the Perseverance probe landed in the Jezero crater on Mars with the mission to search for traces of life. NASA named the planned landing site Timanfaya. The robot’s weather station has been designed and manufactured entirely in Spain. Its Supercam, capable of analysing the chemical composition of Martian rocks, also carries Spain’s technological stamp.
70 Places to Do ‘Geotourism’
The landscape we cross following the Volcanoes with History Route, designed by scientists from the Spanish Geological and Mining Institute and the University of La Laguna, is even more fascinating when we know all the facts. The colours and delightful shapes of the rocks also contain essential information for the scientific community.
The Lanzarote Geosciences Laboratory has been monitoring the Earth since 1987 with three observation modules in Timanfaya, Jameos del Agua and Cueva de los Verdes. It measures a large number of parameters that are essential for research centres in Europe, America and Asia.
In the island’s 850 km2 the scientific community has inventoried seventy sites of geological interest where we can see how the climate has changed since prehistoric times. In addition to its status as a Biosphere Reserve, Lanzarote and the Chinijo Archipelago were awarded the title of Geopark in 2015 by Unesco for the “exceptional” nature of its geology and the boom in geotourism.
This Easter, when you are gazing up at the celestial vault while lying in a hammock, or feeling the texture of a rock after a dip in the sea, remember that you are in one of the epicentres of volcanic beauty and scientific progress.