Iceland Volcanic Activity | Signs of more to come?

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013 By

Lava spews out of an erupting volcano

The ash and gas spit into the air by erupting volcanoes can wreak havoc on the global climate. Image from Flickr.

Last Saturday, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland began to shake, shiver and spit out lava and steam. Iceland volcanic activity has a long history, though this particular volcano hasn’t shown any volcanic activity for almost 200 years. A larger concern than the Iceland volcanic activity of Eyjafjallajokull, though, is the potential eruption of Katla, the much larger nearby volcano. If Iceland volcanic activity continues to increase, the atmosphere could be darkened with ash that could lead to global cooling that no fax loans for scientists could solve.

Iceland Volcanic Activity follows a pattern

Volcanic activity is a notoriously difficult-to-predict phenomenon. However, volcanic activity on Iceland has historically been preceded by seismic activity, much like the recent earthquakes around the world.

Volcanoes in Iceland sit on top of the Atlantic’s mid-oceanic ridge, and when earthquakes push magma and hot rock to the surface, Iceland volcanoes are more likely to erupt. Scientists who study Iceland volcanic activity have said that, historically, when Eyjafjallajokull begins erupting, Katla always eventually follows. This is partially because Eyjafjallajokull’s lava and steam melts the glacier caps on top of Katla, which makes it easier for Katla to blow its top.

Iceland volcanic activity causes cooling

In 1783, the volcanic gasses and ash that were released from that Iceland volcanic activity were enough to create a globe-cooling smog. The gasses were so thick that some residents of the British Isles died from being poisoned by the gas alone. Crop production across Europe fell, causing famine across the continent. The winter of 1794 was the longest and coldest winter on record in North America — so cold that the Mississippi river froze in New Orleans. In 1991, Chile’s Mount Pinatubo erupted, spewed ash and gasses into the atmosphere, and cooled the globe by about 4 degrees for a full year.

Not necessarily a nightmare scenario

While the stories of what can happen when Iceland volcanic activity starts to rise can be the stuff of Hollywood movies, that doesn’t mean it will be the worst-case scenario. The last time Eyjafjallajokull erupted, it was a two-year-long “lazy” eruption in 1821 that did not cause any major environmental effects outside of Iceland.

Volcanoes in Iceland are unique, however, in that their eruptions can be even more difficult to predict because of the glaciers they sit under. In the end, the best bet is to get a personal loan to stock up your emergency supplies, but don’t lock yourselves in underground bunkers quite yet.


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