Friday, December 2, 2011

Growing Fears About Katla Eruption (And Why You Should Pay No Attention)

Previously I've written about Katla, Iceland's large volcano capped by a glacier, next door to the now infamous Eyjafjallajokull volcano. In that article I mentioned that Katla is a ticking time bomb, and an eruption from Katla would likely be devastating economically, and possibly physically, as molten lava crashes into glacial ice causing immense explosions. However I did state in that article that "attempting to predict when an eruption will happen is a waste of time, as is proven time and again."

The News Media in the UK does not seem to understand this. An article released by the BBC today has a lot of great facts about Katla, but injected a silly notion into the article that "An eruption is imminent" or "long overdue".... I'm sorry, I didn't know we were on the BBC's schedule when it came to volcanoes erupting... I was under the impression that volcanoes erupt when conditions are right, conditions that only the volcano knows.

So I want to be QUITE clear about this. Katla WILL LIKELY ERUPT in the future, but it is IMPOSSIBLE to say when. Like I said in a previous post, it could be a matter of hours, days, weeks, months, or even years, decades, or centuries. Heck, it might not even blow up at all, and simply seethe as other volcanoes of the world do. The point is, trying to play up the possibility of a massive eruption by calling it "Imminent" or "Overdue" is presumptuous and damaging to good science.

In any case, here is the real info on Katla. Yes, it may have had a minor eruption this year which caused a glacier outburst flood and damaged some roads and a bridge. Yes, Katla has indeed had over 500 earthquakes in the last month within the caldera. And yes, historically speaking, we should be aware of Katla after an eruption from Eyjafjoll... but these are all merely indicators that "the volcano is active, and not dead", and it does not mean that a volcano eruption is "Imminent" or "Overdue". The same thing could be said about Yellowstone Volcano, that it breathes in and out, has active geysers, and many many swarms of earthquakes... yet it has not erupted in our lifetime, or in historical time.

So before you go getting all panicky about an eruption from Katla, just remember who you're reading about the volcano from. The BBC, much like any news organization, is out to make money, not promote sound science. The more people they can get worrying about a supposed doomsday scenario, the more bad press they sell. Iceland is furious about the bad coverage about Katla, and is trying its best to get the truth out, so I will help them.

So to recap, yep, Katla isn't dead, it is an active volcano. That's the only fact you'll find that you can stake your reputation on. Other than that, yeah, its a dangerous volcano and probably will erupt. Saying when, again, is STUPID, unscientific, and foolish. Let's just say, I personally would not go hiking to the summit any time soon. Other than that, don't lose any sleep over Katla if you don't live in Iceland... and even if you do, you're probably fine.

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