Back in 2011, Iceland’s ice-covered Grímsvötn volcano erupted in an unusually violent manner, sending volcanic ash 20 kilometres into the atmosphere. This led to the cancellation of about 900 passenger flights in the following days due to a limited field of vision.
Understandably, any mention of another explosion from the Icelandic volcano will certainly raise concerns, particularly in the airline and travel industry — which is currently still reeling from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There She Blows — Iceland’s Grímsvötn Volcano
However, there are now clear signs that the grim… Grímsvötn volcano is set to erupt again. As a result, authorities have begun to make their move by raising the threat level for this rather frequently erupting volcano.
Frequently is certainly an understatement, albeit a good way for scientists to detect patterns which may lead to eruptions in the future. And if these precursors keep occurring each time the volcano erupts, then it will be much more of a certainty that an eruption is likely to happen soon.
That being said, it’s nearly impossible to be precise about the exact time and day that the volcano will erupt.
Scientists have been closely monitoring Grímsvötn since its previous eruption in 2011. And there’s bad news. They’ve started to see various signs that point to the volcano getting ready to erupt in the near future.
One sign of an impending eruption lies with inflated new magma which flows into the plumbing system beneath the volcano. Further, increased thermal activity has been associated with the melting ice and there has also been more earthquake activity in recent months — all precursors to the volcano’s ultimate crescendo.
Next, a few intense swarms of earthquakes (lasting a few hours) is to be expected based on past eruptions. This will signal that magma is creeping towards the surface, and subsequently, an eruption is imminent.
But there’s still hope. Icelanders will have to pray that the next Grímsvötn eruption will be on a smaller scale. The smaller eruptions expend a lot of energy when interacting with water and ice on the surface — meaning the resulting ash will get wet and sticky and thus, falls from the sky relatively quickly.
The resulting ash clouds from the smaller eruptions therefore only travel a shorter distance from the eruption site. This is indeed the best-case scenario for Icelanders, as well as for air travel as it will hopefully prevent the formation of substantial ash clouds that could drift around and potentially close off airspace.
The question now is, will it be a small eruption?
If the past data is to be believed, the next eruption should be a smaller one, given that there was a relatively large eruption in 2011. The word “should” is definitely important here as Iceland’s volcanoes are a complex natural system and its patterns may not always be followed.