29 Aug 2014

Stunning video captures erupting Icelandic volcano

Iceland’s meteorological office raises its aviation alert level to maximum after an eruption in the Bardarbunga volcano system.

In 2010, an ash cloud from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, in a different region of Iceland, closed much of Europe’s air space for six days, causing travel chaos.

Air traffic controllers in Iceland have closed the air space above the volcano up to 18,000 feet because of the risk of ash, but as things stand, we are not in line for a repeat of 2010.

Icelandic officials said in a statement: “No volcanic ash has been detected with the radar system at the moment. Seismic eruption tremor is low, indicating effusive eruption without significant explosive activity.”

The eruption is at the tip of a magma dyke around 40km from the main Bardarbunga crater, and seismologist Martin Hensch said it was impossible to say how it would develop.

“One of the concerns is that the fissure opens into the glacier, but presently there is no sign of that happening,” he said.

Aircraft hazard

Professor Nick Petford, a volcano expert at the University of Northampton in Britain, said fissure eruptions were often spectacular, but relatively low key and often died out in a couple of days.

“If it carries on like this, it is very unlikely it will constitute any major hazard to aircraft,” he said.

Why air travellers needn’t fear another 2010. Read Science Editor Tom Clarke’s blog.

But Prof Petford said the situation could change, as it did in 2010. “Exactly the same thing happened in 2010 with the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. The main eruption was in April, but in March there was a fissure eruption which was a precursor to the much larger eruption.”

The Eyjafjallajokull eruption was particularly disruptive because it pushed ash up to just the elevation used by transatlantic aircraft, while winds propelled the cloud into European air space.

The aviation alert level has now been raised to red.