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Volcano Eruption in Iceland

April 20, 2010

After five days of intense, ash-spewing activity, the eruption of the Eyjafjoell volcano (also known as the Eyjafjallajökull volcano) appears to be entering a new phase that produces more lava and less ash, according to those monitoring the eruption in the Icelandic capital Reykjavik. This is good news for the thousands of travelers stranded by ash-related airport shutdowns across Europe. It appears that air traffic is again being allowed over Europe and the logjam of stranded travelers and cargo should start to ease soon. If you are not busy being re-routed by the ash cloud, you can enjoy some extremely cool images of the eruption taken by astronomer Snaevarr Gudmundsson (this site is in Icelandic, I think. A language not supported by Google’s translator) from just a few kilometers away. And more images of the eruption and its effects in Iceland here.

Information from the Institute for Earth Sciences Nordic Volcanological Center at the University of Iceland indicates that the Eyjafjallajökull eruption actually began on March 20, 2010. The initial eruption was lower on the volcano than the current eruption, and caused more lava flow than ash plumes. That phase of the eruption appears to have stopped on April 12, 2010, followed by earthquake swarm near the volcano and then the beginning of the second phase of the eruption on April 14th.

During the second phase, material was ejected from the top of the volcano, at the caldera. The caldera of the Eyjafjoell volcano is under the Eyjafjallajökull glacier. The heat from the eruption melted the glacier, leading to meltwater runoff and flooding in the valleys below the volcano. The University of Iceland reports that everyone living in the flooded areas was evacuated before the flooding and there were no casualties. The second phase of the eruption also created a large ash plume. Winds carried this ash cloud over Europe, shutting down air travel from most major airports for five days over safety concerns. Apparently jet engines and volcanic ash do not mix well, and since jets and ash travel in the same layer of the atmosphere (at about 30,000 feet) it is not a safe situation for passenger or cargo aircraft.

According to researchers in Iceland, even though the ash-spewing phase has slowed, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano is still erupting. The eruption appears to have entered a third phase, with less ash and more lava flow from the caldera. How long this phase will last, or if there will be changes to the eruption leading to more ash production in the future is unknown.

Added 04/27/10 – I added a new post on the environmental impact of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption today.  Check it out!

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