Will flights be disrupted due to Iceland’s volcano eruption?

2023 12 19T105926Z 1 LYNXMPEJBI0DP RTROPTP 4 ICELAND VOLCANO
A volcano spews lava and smoke as it erupts in Grindavik, Iceland, December 18, 2023. Civil Protection of Iceland/Handout via REUTERS /File Photo

On Monday, a volcano erupted on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula, releasing lava and smoke across a wide area following weeks of intense earthquake activity. Here are details on the impact and comparisons with previous Icelandic eruptions:

ICELAND VOLCANO LOCATION

  • Geologists reported on Tuesday that lava seemed to be flowing away from the coastal town of Grindavik, the only settlement in the vicinity, situated 40 km (25 miles) southwest of the capital, Reykjavik.
  • In November, Grindavik’s 4,000 residents were evacuated as a precaution due to seismic activity, and roads in the area remain closed.
  • The volcano is approximately 30 km from Reykjavik, with Keflavik international airport being closer, and the Blue Lagoon, a popular geothermal spa for tourists, even nearer. The Blue Lagoon has mostly been closed since the recent seismic activity.
  • The Reykjanes peninsula hosts five to six distinct volcanic systems, with Monday’s eruption belonging to the Svartsengi system, distinct from the nearby Fagradalsfjall that erupted in 2021 and 2022.

WILL ICELAND WEATHER AFFECT POLLUTION RISK?

  • The eruption occurs on a fissure that was last active about 2,000 years ago.
  • Lava flow decreased from 200-250 cubic meters per second in the first two hours to around a quarter of that on Tuesday morning.
  • Although fissure eruptions tend to subside after the initial burst, there’s a possibility it could continue “for some time,” according to Halldor Geirson, an associate professor at the Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland.
  • The crack in the earth’s surface is about 4 km long, with its southern end approximately 3 km from Grindavik, as stated by Iceland’s Meteorological Office.
  • If the eruption maintains its current intensity, it could result in significant air pollution, according to volcanology researchers at the University of Iceland, who noted that favorable northwesterly winds are likely to carry the eruption plume away from inhabited areas.

WILL THERE BE AN ASH CLOUD LIKE EYAFJALLAJOKULL ERUPTION?

  • Iceland, located between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, is a seismic and volcanic hotspot due to their opposing movements.
  • Monday’s eruption marks the fourth on Reykjanes in recent years, and it’s the largest in the area since 2021.
  • In 2021, volcanic activity persisted for six months, drawing thousands of visitors. In 2022, a three-week eruption occurred in the same area, followed by another in July 2023.
  • Unlike the Eyafjallajokull eruptions in 2010, the Reykjanes volcanic systems are not beneath glaciers, making similar ash clouds unlikely.
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