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Monday
May172010

Volcanoes in Iceland could affect aviation for decades

An era of more frequent and more severe volcanic activity could be around the corner.  The London Times reported in its Sunday edition yesterday that the recent eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in south-central Iceland could be just the beginning of a surge in volcanism that has the potential to cause much larger aviation-related problems in the years to come.  At worst, the volcano called the Icelandic word for “island-mountains glacier” could yet continue like this for months.  And it could perhaps be followed by an even larger volcano to its east, with a reputation for acting out right in the wake of eruptions by its neighbors, according to a volcanologist at the University of Edinburgh.

In addition, rumors that this larger volcano called Katla, might soon erupt, were circulating in the days before Eyjafjallajökull blew its stack.  The ice inside Katla is a third of a mile thick, and it would all melt in the event of an eruption.  In total, volcanologists are looking at four other Icelandic volcanoes, all four larger than Eyjafjallajökull, which could soon cause havoc not only for European air travel, but also for life on Iceland itself.  Melting snow on the summit of one volcano, called Hekla, suggests it might be close to erupting.  Indeed, melting snow and ice associated with rising magma in Iceland has in the past washed away parts of the highway Icelanders call the "Ring Road," around much of the island's outer edge.

The cyclical nature of volcanic eruption over very long periods of time is not generally accepted.  Volcanic eruption could also be random, said a geophysicist at the University of Durham.  But the consequences for air travelers will likely be the same either way.  Repeated volcanic activity of this magnitude or larger will almost certainly cause at least a temporary shift in how they think about travel over long distances.

related stories

Keflavík Airport is closed again due to volcanic ash (May 14, 2010)

Eyjafjallajökull damage report, and spectacular new video (May 13, 2010)

Keflavík and others might close temporarily tomorrow (May 7, 2010)

The spread of volcanic ash from Eyjafjallajökull over time (May 4, 2010)

original story (London Times)

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