September 11, 2012 – Iceland’s Mount Katla Volcano Shows Signs of Catastrophe: The Iceland Volcanic Eruptions, between 1783 and 1784, Killed Six Million People World-Wide. During that time period, a series of large volcanic eruptions occurred along the Laki Fissure Zone, roughly from Mount Katla and extending northeast to Mount Grimsvotn. Is Katla getting ready for a rerun of that horrific event?
Experts are warning that an eruption could be imminent at an even more powerful Icelandic volcano than the one that paralyzed air traffic last year. The 2010 eruptions of Mount Eyjafjallajokul caused enormous disruptions to air travel across western and northern Europe in April and May, 2010. Ash covered large areas of northern Europe. About 20 countries closed their airspace and it affected hundreds of thousands of travellers. The European flights avoided over 340,000 tons of CO2 emissions per day, emitted by the volcano.
Seismologists are nervously watching rumblings beneath Mount Katla, which could spew an ash cloud dwarfing the 2010 eruption that cost airlines $2 billion dollars and drove home how vulnerable modern society is to the whims of nature. Brooding over rugged moss-covered hills on Iceland’s southern edge, Katla is a much bigger beast than the nearby Eyjafjallajokul volcano, which blasted ash all over Europe. Named after an evil troll, Katla has a larger magma chamber than Eyjafjallajokul’s. Its last major eruption in 1918 continued more than a month, turning day into night, starving crops of sunlight and killing livestock. The eruption melted some of the ice-sheet covering Katla, flooding surrounding farmlands with a torrent of water that measured as wide as the Amazon. Now, large clusters of small earthquakes are being detected around Katla, and they have been growing in strength.
Teams of seismologists and geologists are tracking the spike in seismic activity and working with disaster officials, in preparation for a large volcanic event. Civil defense authorities have been holding regular meetings with scientists. Disaster officials have also drafted an evacuation plan and set aside temporary housing, but many fear they may have less than an hour to evacuate once the volcano erupts.
Iceland sits on a large volcanic hot spot in the Atlantic’s mid-oceanic ridge. Eruptions, common throughout Iceland’s history, are often triggered by seismic activity when the Earth’s plates move and magma from deep underground pushes its way to the surface. The longer pressure builds up, the more catastrophic an eruption can be. Records show that Katla usually has a large eruption twice a century. Since its last eruption was almost exactly 93 years ago, it is long overdue for another.
Icelanders are getting nervous. Of Iceland’s more than 22 volcanoes, seven are active and four are particularly active – including Katla and Hekla. Although it does not pose the same flood risk as Katla because it’s not situated beneath an icecap, Hekla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes and sits in the path of most international flight patterns. Like Katla, Hekla is also overdue for a large eruption and could produce a disruptive and dangerous ash cloud that, in addition to disrupting air travel, could lower overall temperatures across continents by blocking out sunlight for days or weeks. This would be catastrophic for Europe and the world.
The Master of Disaster