A volcano that hasn’t erupted since 1728 may blow its lid and increased activity around the volcano has scientists concerned on both sides of the Atlantic. The Oraefajokull volcano in Iceland, one of the tallest in the country, is showing signs of life. In just the last week, experts detected 160 earthquakes from the normally quiet area, forcing officials to declare the Volcano’s Alert Safety Code to “Yellow.” There’s also concern that changes in the appearance of the volcano can be a sign of trouble. The University of Iceland’s Ingibjorg Jonsdottir told the Morgunbladid newspaper, “We see a greatly increased pattern of fissures around the caldera.”
Sara Barsotti, from the Iceland Meteorological Office, the Iceland equivalent to the National Weather Service in the United States said, “Oraefajokull is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in Iceland. It’s a volcano for which we need to be very careful.”
One reason scientists are concerned about the volcano is a lack of data. With the last major eruption dating back to the early 1700’s, there isn’t much data on the large volcano.
Beyond harming people on Iceland, a volcanic eruption there could have a major impact to trans-Atlantic air travel. In 2010, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano spewed ash and soot into the air, causing travel chaos around Europe. Volcanic ash and air travel don’t mix. Ash is heavy enough to make it difficult to see out of a cockpit window and could make sensors, such as RADAR, malfunction due to its density, rendering pilots “blind.” Worse, volcanic ash can clog engines. According to Boeing, volcanic ash can accumulate in jet engines, leading to equipment failures. Volcanic ash is also high in silica, the basic ingredient of glass. The high temperatures of jet engines can melt volcanic ash into glass, glazing the engine with glass. When encased in glass, experts believe exhaust from the engines would back up into the aircraft, filling the cabin with toxic gas. Because of these risks, airlines and the government agencies that regulate them keep airplanes far away from high-altitude ash clouds. Should Oraefajokull erupt, air travel between North America and Europe and air travel within Europe could be halted, which would have significant impacts to economies around the globe.
A significant eruption at Oraefajokull could also have long-term impacts to weather and climate. Past major eruptive events around the world have had significant impacts to weather far away from the volcano itself. After a violent eruption in Indonesia in 1815, winter-like conditions were experienced in the summer in the northeastern United States in 1816. Known as the “year without a summer”, some of the most unusual climatic reports were five consecutive late June nights with frost in Cape May, New Jersey; snow falling on June 7th and 8th in Massachusetts and lake and river ice found in July and August as far south as northwestern Pennsylvania.
The activity with Oraefajokull in Iceland has scientists on edge, as do other volcanoes around the world right now. In Indonesia, the Agung volcano is erupting. That huge stratovolcano may impact weather and climate for months or years to come. Scientists are also concerned about a super-volcano showing signs of life in Italy. Campi Flegrei is responsible for Europe’s largest known volcanic blast; a repeat performance of that volcano could be catastrophic for Europe with huge impacts around the world.