It was almost two years ago when the Icelandic volcano of Eyjafjallajökull erupted with a surprise display of fissure driven lava effusion, and an explosive eruption from the summit caldera. The volcano which had not erupted for over 120 years burst to life with a spectacular display, but also wreaked havoc on air travel for most of Europe and some parts of the Americas. Indeed this volcano eruption was probably one of the most costly in recent history not to life, but to the economies around the Northern Hemisphere.
As most people know by now, Eyjafjallajökull is dwarfed by its larger, and more violent, neighbor, Katla Volcano under the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Katla, when it does have a large eruption, is up to 10 times more powerful than Eyjafjallajökull at its peak strength. And as history says, when Eyjafjallajökull blows up, Katla will not be far behind. Typically, an eruption from Eyjafjallajökull is followed rather closely by one from Katla, however this time it has been more than a year until Katla finally started showing signs of dike intrusion and ice melt.
During July, 2011, Katla produced what is widely thought to be a minor subglacial eruption, which caused a series of "Jökulhlaups" or glacier outburst floods that ended up taking out a bridge down river and causing other minor damage to infrastructure. This was a minor burp compared to what Katla can truly do, and lately it seems that Katla may be again gearing up for a larger show.
Blogger Jon Frimann who runs the "Iceland Volcano and Earthquake blog" has been monitoring the situation under Katla with his geophones, and states that dike intrusion is probably occurring under Katla (other volcanologists such as John Seach have also suggested that this is occurring), which will eventually lead to an eruption.
It looks like Katla will erupt sooner, rather than later, but as is the case with most volcanoes, attempting to predict when an eruption will happen is a waste of time, as is proven time and again. Unless volcanoes give very clear and consistent signals, such as the ongoing activity at El Hierro volcano in the Spanish Canary Islands did, it's really anyone's guess as to how and when they'll blow their tops.
And it's certainly not as if scientists don't have enough active volcanoes in the world to study, there are hundreds if not thousands of active volcanoes on our planet. The challenge is that each volcano is different, erupts differently, are made of different stuff, and sit on different types of geological settings. Each volcano has to be carefully analyzed and its own unique behavior mapped, so there can never truly be a "one size fits all" standard for volcanic eruption prediction. Only being prepared, and staying observant.
Is Europe really ready for round two of the volcanic dust cloud? They were extremely cocky last time, when they got desperate to begin flying airplanes through the ash, there are many reports that the British paid scientists to downplay publicly the danger of volcanic dust on airplane jet engines. There should be no need for proof of the dangers of ash-laden air going through hot jets that the danger is very real. There have already been plenty of examples of near fatal encounters with ash clouds, and ones that were fatal. I don't care how bad you want to fly, its not worth the risk!
If Katla erupted lets say, next week, (which it probably won't), the damage to the Eurozone would likely be immense, as the region is struggling with its own bubble-burst and recession, which has threatened the European Union and its monetary system. Throw in the inability to fly planes throughout the region, and it's like throwing gas on the fire. Given Europe's less-than-scientific analysis of volcanic ash and airplane engines, I'd say that this increases greatly the chances of some airplane getting slammed by ash, and crashing. I truly hope that doesn't occur and that wiser people prevail and choose life over money, but money is a powerful motivator these days.
In any case, keep your eyes peeled on Katla. If it has a large eruption, it will probably end up being the eruption of the decade for the Northern Hemisphere and for Westernized Civilization. It's highly doubtful an eruption would result in any deaths, save from tourists who get a bit too close or freeze if they get lost, and would likely simply be an economic killer. It will be an historic event, nonetheless. Stay tuned!
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Katla - The Icelandic Ticking Time Bomb
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