Top Story: March 22, 2010

Volcanic Iceland

800px-Eyjafjallajökull

Scientists are flying over the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland today to determine the damage of Saturday’s eruption and whether the volcano will erupt again. They’re also keeping an eye on a neighboring volcano—Katla—that has been known to erupt after Eyjafjallajökull.

Iceland, known as the land of fire and ice due to its glaciers and volcanoes, is one of the most volcanically active regions in the world, with eruptions on average every five years. Because the volcanoes often erupt under ice sheets, they provide very little warning. Heating the overlaying ice sheets and glaciers can also cause major flooding and mudslides after eruptions—that’s what sent the 500 residents around the volcano from their homes on Saturday.

While most residents have now returned safely to their homes, volcanologists are tracking Eyjafjallajökull and its neighbor to the east, Katla.  Katla is one of Iceland’s largest volcanoes and previous eruptions of the smaller Eyjafjallajökull have triggered Katla to erupt.

This is causing increasing fears of flooding; following a 1755 eruption of Katla, a flood the size of the Amazon is said to have discharged.  Since Katla is far from a population center, it would be unlikely to kill anyone, were it to erupt.

But scientists are concerned about more than just flooding. A large eruption in Iceland could also release dust and gas into the air. In 1783, another large Icelandic volcano, Laki, released sulfur dioxide into the air causing smog, changing weather patterns and killing animals and people throughout the country and northern Europe.

Creative Commons image by Andreas Tille

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