The Met Office has raised its risk level to the aviation industry after an increase in volcanic activity threatens an eruption which could cause travel chaos.
In 2010 the ash cloud caused by the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland shut down vast swathes of European airspace for six days. Over 10 million people were affected by the closure and the cost is estimated to be $1.7 billion.
As Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano threatens to erupt, the Met Office has raised its risk level to the aviation industry to orange, the second-highest level and is warning airlines of possible disruption. Seismologists have been recording intense seismic activity at Bardarbunga since 16 August, but no eruption has been detected as yet.
A seismologist for the Met Office, Martin Hensch, said that how disruptive any ash cloud is depends on how much ash was expelled by the eruption, how fine-grained it is and how far up it is thrown. The biggest risk to Iceland is from flooding caused by eruption under the glacier. Although Bardarbunga is in a mostly-uninhabited area, roads have been closed as a precaution. At 15.5 miles wide, Bardarbunga is Iceland’s biggest volcanic system; in a different range from Eyjafjallajokull, it is situated under the ice-cap of the Vatnajokull glacier which is located in the South-West of Iceland, approximately 135 miles from Iceland’s capital Reykjavik.
The Met Office’s statement says that early on Monday morning, it measured the strongest earthquake in that region since 1996 and there are now definite indications of magma movement: “As evidence of magma movement shallower than 10 km implies increased potential of a volcanic eruption, the Bardarbunga aviation colour code has been changed to orange. Presently there are no signs of eruption, but it cannot be excluded that the current activity will result in an explosive sub-glacial eruption, leading to an outburst flood and ash emission.”