I’ve been slow to put up a post about the Icelandic volcano because the story keeps getting more interesting; every time I start a post, I hear a new interesting story about it and put it off!
As we’ve discussed in class, a volcano has been erupting in Iceland for about a week now. As you know, Iceland is actually part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American Plate is moving away from the Eurasian Plate. Because the crust is so thin where the plates separate, hot magma is always close to the surface in Iceland.
Usually, Iceland benefits from this situation. All that heat in the ground is used for geothermal energy, meaning that almost all of Iceland’s electricity and heat comes from the ground, not from burning fossil fuels.
But sometimes, a rift opens up and a volcano spews lava and ash above the crust’s surface.
Mount Eyjafjallajökull is a volcano under a glacier, so when it erupted, it sent up a mixture of lava ash and steam, and caused some flooding in Iceland as the glacier melted.
Because of wind patterns, the ash cloud traveled over Europe, halting air traffic for most of the week. Volcanic ash is very dangerous for jet engines because it’s basically small particles of rock and sand. The particles can melt in a hot jet engine and become sticky glass, causing the engine to fail.
Here are a few more interesting facts about the volcano. (Click the links for more detail.)
- Even though volcanoes emit CO2 and other greenhouse gases, this eruption has actually saved almost 200,000 tons of CO2 from being emitted. That’s because the CO2 released by the volcano is tiny compared to all the CO2 being saved by grounding Europe’s airplanes for most of a week.
- Mt. Eyjafjallajökull seems like a really tricky word to say, but it’s actually just a compound word from three Icelandic words. This comment from the NPR blog sums it up nicely:
It’s actually not so hard once you realize that the name is actually three words that have been combined: “Eyja” – “Fjälla” – Jökull”. “Eyja” (AY-yah) means “island”. “Fjälla” (FYEL-lah) means “mountain”. And finally, “Jökull” (YER-kuhl) means “glacier”. So the name is literally “IslandMountainGlacier”. The translation is actually almost harder to pronounce…
- Nobody knows how long this eruption will last. The last time Mt. Eyjafjallajökull erupted, it lasted for more than a year, from 1821 to 1823.
- There’s a neighboring volcano called Katla, which is one of the biggest volcanoes in Iceland, which could cause much more damage and much more glacial flooding. The last three times Mt. Eyjafjallajökull erupted, it set off even bigger Katla eruptions, and Icelanders are worried that it might happen again.
- The shutdown in air flights didn’t just cause problems for travelers. It caused problems in the food supply and world economy. For example, tulips are Hollands major export, and they are in bloom right now, but because the flights were grounded, hundreds of thousands of tulips are rotting in their Dutch warehouses, and the United States is experiencing a shortage of Atlantic salmon, which is normally flown over from Scandinavia.
Video of a helicopter ride around the eruption:
Image Source: Flickr