Many members of the scientific community across the globe have been carefully monitoring Iceland's volcanoes. Since the March and April 2010 eruptions from Eyjafjallajökull, activity watch has been even more intensified as there is real concern other nearby volcanoes such as Katla and Hekla may begin to arouse from slumber.
There is much speculation and anxiety Katla will erupt since the volcano is a bit overdue for its traditional cyclic eruptions and the past three times Eyjafjallajökull has erupted, Katla soon followed. Once the activity starts, eruptions can be ongoing, sometimes up to a year, and this can have serious repercussions on issues such as the environment, health, and economy.
Iceland is an area known to be heavy in volcanic activity (eruptions average every 5-10 years) and if the volcanic action intensifies this could not only interrupt economies as the ash cloud spewed by Eyjafjallajökull did, but also impact global temperatures and climate change. In addition there are the dangerous gasses to consider.
In a piece published in the Philadelphia Inquirer by staff writer, Faye Flam, states "Every few tens of thousands of years, Earth's seething interior brings forth a "megavolcano," covering continents with ash and plunging the planet into nuclear-winter-like conditions. The most recent was in Indonesia 74,000 years ago".
It was reported on sciencedaily.com that Jay Miller, a research scientist who has explored Iceland's volcanoes for 25 years, talks about the reasons why hundreds of European flights were cancelled for fear of engine mishaps.
He states "What happens is that the magma from the volcano is around 1,200 degrees and it hits the water there, which is near freezing. What is produced is a fine ash that actually has small pieces of glass in it, and it can very easily clog up a jet engine. If you were to inhale that ash, it would literally tear up your lungs." The problems that are a result of ash dispensing are significant, especially if the situation were to be prolonged.
While many of the volcanic eruptions are mild, Miller indicates that every so often extremely large eruptions that cover Europe with ash, like the recent explosion of Eyjafjallajökull did, historically ongoing activity can happen. The materials spewed forth can be dangerous and the unpredictable nature of the volcanic activity in Iceland adds to concern.
With all the range of potential dangerous effects from volcanic materials it is no wonder everyone is so concerned about additional eruptions. Volcanoes in Iceland are pretty volatile, they can slow down and go back to sleep, or continue to awaken with a fury. It is not uncommon for one volcano to nudge another and cause its neighbor to awaken. This is one of the primary reasons why many residents who live in the volcanic region are getting prepared and creating evacuation plans.
Iceland is a volcanic hotspot and what happens next is anyone's guess. However, the Philadelphia Inquirer article also reports from an interview with John Eichelberger, who heads the Volcano Hazards Program for the U.S. Geological Survey, "On the bright side, people are getting better at forecasting eruptions, They have made big strides in the last decades, thanks to advances in radar and GPS. By measuring swelling in parts of the ground, the Icelanders forecast an E15 [Eyjafjallajökull, E15 is a shortened name some scientists have given the volcano] eruption a year ago".
Hopefully as science and technology progress more will be known about the amazing capabilities of Mother Nature and scientists will have better predictors in order to make more accurate forecasts.
In the scheme of things Eyjafjallajökull is a small volcano, but based on the history of eruptions, the volcanic activity is considered dangerous because of the unpredictability factor and subsequent domino effects from other volcanoes. The region will continue to be monitored continuously.