Tuesday, April 10, 2012
On the second anniversary of the ash cloud that grounded Europe’s flights, Iceland is facing further volcanic havoc, warns Andy Hooper .
This month marks the second anniversary of the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull that left millions stranded across Europe, and cost airlines an estimated €150 million a day for six days. But alarmingly, there are signs of high activity beneath the much larger, neighbouring Katla caldera in Iceland – a possible sign of an impending eruption. This should prompt extensive high-level contingency planning across Europe, as Katla has the potential to be much more damaging than Eyjafjallajökull.
Since Iceland was settled in the ninth century, Katla has erupted on average every 60 years, but has not had a significant eruption since 1918. Ominously, eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in 1821-23 and 1612 were followed within months by eruptions of Katla. Judged by the historical calendar, an eruption is overdue.
Last July, a flood of water burst from beneath the ice cap on top of Katla, washing away a bridge. This indicates that an extra pulse of heat reached the base of the ice. Since then, there have been erratic movements of the surface of the volcano, measured by precise GPS instruments, and bursts of high earthquake activity beneath Katla’s caldera. These observations imply that magma has risen to shallower depths.