Potential for European disruption if Icelandic volcano erupts

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As seismic activity and other signs continue to point to an increasing risk for a volcanic eruption in Iceland near Grindavík, AccuWeather meteorologists say that there is the potential for impacts to aviation over the coming weeks.

AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jonathan Porter said, “Many people may remember the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption in Iceland, which caused travel chaos for weeks on end as the volcano produced a large plume of volcanic ash lofted high into the atmosphere, which dispersed over parts of the European continent. Volcanic ash, if ingested in sufficient quantities, can result in jet engine failure – a serious threat to planes. As a result, during the 2010 eruption, as the ash cloud spread, civil aviation authorities in various countries shut down air travel, resulting in many travelers from Europe and beyond becoming stuck for weeks on end with no ability to fly.”

However, Porter said that the location and characteristics of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano from 2010 and the current volcano in question near Grindavík means that the broader impact to air travel this time around is not expected to be as severe.

“The Eyjafjallajökull volcano is located at high elevation – more than 5,500 feet – and is essentially covered by an ice glacier.” As highlighted by volcano experts, when this volcano erupted in 2010, the ash cloud was made more explosive because molten lava interacted with the melting ice cap. Porter said, “The volcano near Grindavík is not encapsulated in an ice cap, but if it erupts, it can still introduce plumes of volcanic ash into the atmosphere, which can travel on the upper-level winds.”

AccuWeather expert meteorologists say the upper-level winds across Iceland through Friday will largely be east to southeasterly towards Greenland. Into the weekend, a storm is expected to remain south of Iceland as it moves towards western Europe. This will change the upper-level winds to be out of the west-northwest towards Scandinavia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, a pattern likely to continue into the first half of next week.

Porter said, “Based on our preliminary information, people who are traveling to and from Europe during the next few weeks, especially during the United States Thanksgiving holiday, should closely monitor developments in Iceland. Although it does not appear that this volcano will have as major an impact to air travel across Europe as we saw back in 2010, any volcanic ash sent into the atmosphere can result in portions of air space being closed. Even small differences in the specifics of a volcano eruption and resultant lava flow can result in significant changes to its environmental impacts, so travelers will need to watch out for a potential cascade of flight cancellations and delays.”