Sunday, October 16, 2011

Large and Dangerous Volcano Awakes in Iceland

Katla eruption in 1918
Article first published as Large and Dangerous Volcano Awakes in Iceland on Technorati.

Airlines are nervously watching for another volcanic eruption in Iceland which could dwarf last years' eruption of closely related Eyjafjallajokull. In 2010, ash grounded planes and caused the most widespread interruption of air travel since World War II.  Katla, a much larger and potentially more dangerous volcano is showing signs of a possible imminent eruption.

Nearby Eyjafjallajokull erupted last year, disrupting air traffic over Europe, costing airlines almost 2 billion dollars and stranding passengers in airports all over the world. These neighbors appear to influence activity in the other and eruptions at Eyjafjallajokull have historically been shortly followed by eruptions at Katla.

The magma chamber inside Katla may be ten times as big as Eyjafjallajokull and in addition to spewing tons of gritty ash, it sits beneath the Myrdalsjökull ice sheet which has caused devastating flooding in previous eruptions. Earthquakes under Katla have been growing in strength, with a magnitude 4 quake recorded last week.

Katla has historically erupted approximately every 50 years, but it has been nearly a century since the last eruption in 1918. At that time, the eruption lasted over a month, blocked out the sun, killed off crops and livestock and sent a huge torrent of water over nearby farms.

An eruption of Laki in 1783 released plumes of toxic smog which rode the jet stream and killed thousands in the British Isles. Ash blocked sunlight causing temperatures to drop by 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit across Europe. North America shivered under one of the coldest winters on record in 1784, with reports of the Mississippi River freezing in New Orleans.

Iceland's history is one of fire and ice. It is home to more than 22 volcanoes, seven of which are active. Ice sheets and glaciers cover approximately 11,260 square miles or about 11% of the land.

Evacuation plans have been drafted and emergency housing for the displaced have been set aside, but officials are concerned that there may be very little warning, perhaps less than an hour, to evacuate the population if Katla blows.