Eyjafjallajokull Volcano (E15) South Iceland

By Calum Duncan, Hannah Greening, Colm Hegarty, Ali Afzal, Ryan Lord

Iceland is a volcanic hot spot, due to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that it sits across, which is the dividing line between the Eurasian and North American continental plates. There are currently 35 active volcanoes on the island. (BBC News)

Eyjafjallajokull, which translates into "island mountain glacier", also known as Eyjafjöll or E15, is located in South Iceland, approximately 8 miles to the west of Katla volcano. It's an ice-covered stratovolcano that reaches a height of 1666m (5465ft) with a caldera spanning 2.5km wide. It is estimated that Eyjafjallajokull is one of Iceland's oldest active volcanoes. (Sturkell et al, 2009)

It most recently erupted in March 2010, resulting in widespread disruption to air travel across Europe. the last eruption occured from December 1821 to January 1823, producing intermediate-to-silicic tephra from the central caldera. (GVP) Previously recorded eruptions occured in 920 and 1612. On all of these previous occasions the neighbouring volcano, Katla, has also erupted. This statistic has had a big influence since the eruptions in April 2010, with many people fearing that Katla would erupt once again, causing increasing disruption. This fear was heightened since Katla is currently overdue an eruption, it's last being in 1918.

We're going to be looking at the recent eruption of 2010 along with the Environmental, Economic and Social Impacts that ensued.

How and why Eyjafjallajokull erupted

Iceland sits atop of a mantle plume (hotspot) (Sturkella et al, 2006), these 100-200km wide columns of hot rocks rising from deep within the earth and scorch a whole in the lithosphere (Rittera et al, 2001), thus forming a volcano. Iceland has many volcanoes and volcanic features, including the geysers at geysir, and Krafla.
The first phase of the eruption began in the late in the evening of March 20th (Haukur S. Magnússon , 2010) The lava is balasaltic (alkaline-olivine) in nature (Agust Gudmundsson , 2010) and creates a wet surface on which steam explosions can happen, the first time that a pseudocrator has been witnessed being formed. (Oroian I, 2010). On April 14th the second phase of the eruption began, this time sub glacial, and this lead to the closure of most of Europe's airspace (Oroian I, 2010).


The ash that caused so much disruption in Europe, was caused by the magma melting the ice, and turning it into steam increasing the pressure and explosiveness and magma that hit the steam shattered and fragmented into fine grained tephra which rose in the ash column. (Alexandra Witze, 2010)

What is important to remember about Eyjafjallajokull is that, in the term of eruptions, the larger second phase was only VEI of 4, which is not unusually powerful and is expected every few years (Simkin and Siebert, 1994). The main cause of the disruption was the placement of the volcano directly underneath the jet stream, which blew the ash towards Europe. (Jenkins, 2010)

Environmental Impacts

As with most eruptions, the most common gases produced are carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide amongst others. In the case of Eyjafjallajokull, scientists concluded that the gases produced were not sufficient enough to act as a catalyst for global climate change (C. Elisa et al, 2001). However, the initial explosion of Eyjafjallajokull ejected 40 teragrams of volcanic ash (which are abrasive particles around 10 microns in diameter that cause health effects such as lung irritation (USGS)) as well as 10 teragrams of sulphur dioxide (U. Schumann et al, 2010), a main component of acid rain once reacted with water molecules in the atmosphere (BBC News).

How the eruption affected the UK, from an environmental viewpoint.
Although Eyjafjallajokull’s eruption crippled UK’s economy, the air quality data gathered by AURN (Automatic Urban and Rural Network (DEFRA)) had strange but positive results. Besides light ash fall and anecdotal reports of sulphurous smells in parts of Scotland, there was no evidence of increased pollutants associated with the volcano as the levels of PM10 and sulphur were passed as ‘normal’ (A.J.Elliot et al, 2010). Furthermore, the closure of UK’s flights resulted in a significant decrease of nitrogen oxide concentrations around some major airports such as Gatwick (zero) and Heathrow (near zero) during the 6 days that they were closed (B. Barratt and G. Fuller, 2010)

Economic Impacts

The April 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano created unprecedented disruptions to European air travel from the 15th to the 20th of April. The cost of this disruption is a prime example of how volcanic eruptions can affect communities thousands of miles away, the estimated cost to the aviation industry was put at $250 million of loses per day. (Gudmundsson et al., 2010.) These disruptions had a direct effect on the UK’s tourist industry, resulting in a £102m cost for the capital. (BBC News 2010).

Passengers wait for information at Manchester Airport-http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/7733511/Airlines-join-forces-to-condemn-no-fly-zones.html
Particular controversies have risen over the banning of flights in the European air space (Fisher et al.,2010) Ed Anderson from AOA (Airport Operator’s Association) has said that ‘firm government action is now needed to be put in place to restore traveller’s confidence when booking a flight and to ensure that mounting financial impacts on UK airports and airlines are addressed.’ (Gammell, 2010).

Economic Impacts spread through out the globe, with carmaker BMW suspending production at 3 of its plants in Germany because of interruptions in the supply of parts. Also, African exporters of fresh flowers and vegetables had to throw away tonnes of rotting stock resulting in large losses. (BBC News 2010)

There are also direct economic impacts for Iceland; natural hazards such as flash floods associated with an eruption can cause large amounts of damage to infrastructure, (Jonnsson, 2010) this takes increased investment to recover from and manage. For example, preparing emergency services and digging trenches for flood water. (Gísladóttir & Jóhannesdótti , 2010).

Social Impacts

The eruption of Eyjafjallajokull did not only have major economic and environmental problems it also had major social problems. For example the volcano causes a huge ash cloud which disrupted many peoples holidays and jobs, an example of this is when both Fulham and Liverpool football clubs had to travel to Hamburg, Germany and Madrid, Spain for their semi final matches.

The formula one team was also affected by the volcano as they had serious delays leaving China after Jenson Button had won. There was also major concerns for the team as they didn't think they could get the cars transported home in time for repairs for the spanish round in Barcelona on the 9th of May.

Peoples health is also a major social factor to consider when discussing the eruption and ash cloud. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned people in Iceland to stay indoor or to wear a mask if they are going outside. The reason for this is because the inhalation of the particulates from the volcanic eruption can cause severe respiratory problems, the particulates can also cause irritation of the eyes, throat and nose.
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The eruption also could causes significant damage to the health of animals for example most magma has a trace of fluorine aerosols which may fall onto the land on which an animal is gazing on, and it may consume it and as a result it may contracting fluorosis (a fatal bone disease). This is why farmers keep their livestock housed indoors during and after a volcanic eruption. The ash from the eruption may also suffocate the animals or at best also give them respiratory problems.
The eruption also could causes significant damage to the health of animals for example most magma has a trace of fluorine aerosols which may fall onto the land on which an animal is gazing on, and it may consume it and as a result it may contracting fluorosis (a fatal bone disease). This is why farmers keep their livestock housed indoors during and after a volcanic eruption. The ash from the eruption may also suffocate the animals or at best also give them respiratory problems.


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