NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New photos from the International Space Station taken back in June highlight an ancient lava flow stretching across the desert in New Mexico. According to NASA, on June 30, a member of the Expedition 67 crew took photos of the Carrizozo Malpais, a large basaltic lava flow on the west side of Carrizozo.

Dr. Larry Crumpler, Research Curator at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, said the Carrizozo lava flow started from an unusual volcanic eruption. “It’s a very large volume lava flow,” said Dr. Crumpler. “Estimates of the volume of the lava that was actually erupted is around five cubic kilometers, plus or minus; it’s very imprecise.”

Dr. Crumpler explains that, due to its size, the Carrizozo Malpais is in the same order as the Laki fissure eruption of 1783, which had a hand in causing the Irish potato famine. That eruption produced 14 cubic kilometers of basalt lava and the Carrizozo lava flow created five. “These large eruptions like the Carrizozo flow are, you know, they’re bad things. And so 5,000 years ago…it probably had some continental lift influence,” says Dr. Crumpler.

According to Dr. Crumpler, evidence suggests that the slow-moving Carrizozo eruption lasted for several years. “These eruptions] have environmental consequences that just aren’t really appreciated because they’re not big, bad, and explosive,” said Dr. Crumpler. “They were really bad because they put out [sulfuric dioxide] gasses.”

He also added that the Carrizozo Malpais and the McCarty’s lava flow in Cibola County are the youngest, longest, lava flows on the North American continent. The Carrizozo lava flow is 5,000 years old and 75 km from event to tip. McCarty’s is about 3,000 years old and 40 km long.

Even though the Carrizozo Malpais looks like one big flow, Dr. Crumpler said it’s actually a combination of many tiny, different lava flows. “It’s very complicated and we’re just learning how to map those; that sequence,” said Dr. Crumpler