Volcanic Eruptions in Iceland leave scenes of terror and destruction in their wake

Iceland is a country that is no stranger to eruptions or quakes. Yet over the past few weeks, the country has been on the receiving end of hundreds of small earthquakes a day. These have ranged from 4.6 to 5.3 on the Richter Scale, with the threat of volcanic eruption also hanging in the air. Experts have warned that a volcanic eruption could occur under the seabed, leaving potential for an even greater disaster in the form of a tsunami. Current efforts have been focused on evacuating the town of Grindavik where the majority of the quakes have occurred. 

Iceland is home to nearly 100 different volcanoes. Thankfully the majority of these active volcanoes are located deep beneath glaciers. The vast number of volcanoes is primarily due to the country’s unique position, as it straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between the European and Northern tectonic plates. This allows for magma to seep up from the Earth’s core, which leads to an eruption that occurs, on average, once every five years. 

The last major eruption to occur in Iceland was in 2010 from the volcano known as Eyjafjallajökull, which sent volcanic ash upwards of five miles into the sky. Considering it was a relatively small eruption, or series of eruptions, its massive effects were still felt in Europe. There was an impact on the economies of European countries and beyond. Ten million travellers were disrupted, and politicians, tourists and sports events were affected, as air travel was cancelled. However, the cancellation of so many flights had a favourable environmental effect as it saved an estimated figure of between 1.3 and 2.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Volcanic ash has a dramatic effect on aeroplanes: ‘The volcanic ash was electrically conductive which meant it could cause thunder and lightning, or St Elmo’s Fire – an effect where metal parts of an aircraft start to glow’, explained Professor Guy Gratton

The Icelandic government is prepared to initiate plans to divert magma flow away from Grindavik and the nearby power plant, using a tried and tested method of ‘earth walls’. Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir has noted that Iceland is perhaps the most prepared country in the world to the face this kind of natural disaster and would weather it accordingly, though does not deny there are still great perils to face:

‘We have long experience in dealing with volcanic eruptions. We know that it’s not necessarily a sound decision to build, for example, defence mechanisms when you have such a great uncertainty where an eruption can come up.’

With glaciers in Iceland shrinking yearly, the threat of volcanic eruption is only likely to rise. As noted by Dr Graeme Swindles of Leeds University, the effects of climate change are causing a rapid decline in ice build-up in the region. These glaciers protect local residents from the brunt of volcanic eruptions. Without them, life in Iceland could become a whole lot deadlier. 

‘The human effect on global warming makes it difficult to predict how long the time lag will be but the trends of the past show us more eruptions in Iceland can be expected in the future.’

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