22 May 2011

Iceland volcano ash could reach UK by Tuesday

Iceland’s most active volcano has released a plume of ash which could reach the UK by Tuesday, but scientists doubt there will be a repeat of the travel chaos caused by last year’s cloud.

Grimsvotn volcano eruption sends an ash plume 12 miles into the sky. (Reuters)

Iceland has been forced to close its airspace after the country’s most active volcano burst into life in its biggest eruption for 100 years.

The Grímsvötn volcano erupted on Saturday, sending an ash plume 12 miles into the sky.

Weather forecasters say ash could drift as far as Scotland by Tuesday and, if the eruption continues at the same rate, reech other parts of the UK later in the week.

The size of the cloud means the eruption is ten times more powerful than the last one at Grímsvötn in 2004, which led to the re-routing of transatlantic flights south of Iceland, but did not lead to the closure of airports.

The Isavia civil aviation authority said it had decided to shut the island’s main airport, about 30 miles from the capital Reykjavik, and impose a flight ban 120 nautical miles around the area.

It said in a statement: “The ash distribution forecast over the next six hours shows that the ash from the volcano will spread over Iceland today, leading to the closure of most Icelandic airports as the day goes on.”

But experts say the latest eruption, which is taking place under Europe’s largest glacier – the Vatnajokull in southeast Iceland – was unlikely to cause the same kind of disruption to air traffic as when Eyjafjallajokull erupted last April.

The authorities halted flights then due to fears that dust and ash would get into aircraft engines and cause accidents, after the cloud drifted into European air traffic lanes.

The ash in Grimsvotn is more coarse and not as likely to cause danger. Pall Einarsson

Pall Einarsson, geophysicist at the University of Iceland, said: “The ash in Eyjafjallajokull was persistent or unremitting and fine-grained. The ash in Grimsvotn is more coarse and not as likely to cause danger as it falls to the ground faster and doesn’t stay as long in the air as in the Eyjafjallajokull eruption.”

Open University Volcano Dynamics Group expert David Rothery said: “There is no reason to expect Grimsvotn’s current eruption to produce the volume of finely fragmented ash that caused such disruption during last year’s Eyjafjallajokull eruption.

“There will be re-routing of some transatlantic flights, but I doubt that it will become necessary to close European airspace. The eruption is also expected to cause local flooding because of escape of meltwater.”

Europe’s air traffic control organisation said on Sunday: “There is currently no impact on European or transatlantic flights and the situation is expected to remain so for the next 24 hours

“Aircraft operators are constantly being kept informed of the evolving situation.”