Another volcanic eruption in Iceland could cause global air traffic chaos

Another volcanic eruption in Iceland could cause global air traffic chaos

Iceland’s seismologists are sounding alarm about the rising threat level for the Grimsvotn volcano that have experienced an unusually powerful eruption in 2011, firing a 20km pillar of ash into the air.

Now the scientists are warning that there are multiple indications that another massive eruption could soon take place.

Recently, the volcano has been observed “inflating” as new magma enters the chambers beneath it once again, and the resulting increased thermal activity has melted more ice. Localized earthquake activity has also increased, all combining to suggest that an eruption may soon take place. 

Seismologists are now on the lookout for an intense swarm of earthquakes, which could last up to 10 hours, signaling a rush of magma to the surface and an imminent eruption. 

Though a slim possibility, an eruption event of a similar scale to 2011 would exacerbate an already precarious situation for the airline industry which has been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2010 the eruption of another Iceland’s volcano, the Eyjafjallajokull, forced the cancellation of some 100,000 flights in an unprecedented global air traffic disruption. 

The Grimsvotn volcano has experienced at least 65 eruptions in the past 800 years, making it the country’s most frequently erupting volcano. 

There are typically gaps of four to 15 years between smaller, more recent eruptions, while larger eruptions appear to take place every 150 to 200 years, with major events recorded in 2011, 1873, 1619.

Heat output from the volcano has increased dramatically in recent months, prompting the raising of the alert level, and is extremely high at present, melting surrounding ice and creating a large, hidden lake of meltwater some 100 meters deep beneath the 260-meter thick glacier above.

This poses a risk to nearby infrastructure as the meltwater can escape without warning, traveling through subterranean volcanic tunnels before emerging some 45km away. The passage of water through these tunnels is now monitored to prevent loss of life in case of sudden flash floods. 

However, these sudden flood events also dramatically reduce the pressure at the volcano proper and can even trigger a full-blown eruption. 

Mercifully, as a result of the ice cap on top of the volcano, and the meltwater reservoir beneath, the ash that will spew forth from the volcano will likely be dampened immediately. 

While there will be some disruption to air travel, it hopefully won’t be on the scale of the Eyjafjallajokull event, though volcanic activity is notoriously hard to predict as evidenced by the 2010 eruption which caught the world off guard.

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