Grimsvötn, Iceland’s most active volcano, began its latest eruption on Saturday and has led to a shutdown of some air travel in the country, just a year after the massive Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption created air travel chaos across Europe.
Iceland’s Meteorological Office (IMO) has issued a warning statement on the volcano’s eruption, stating the activity began late Saturday as subglacial eruptions which quickly broke the ice cover and by 9 p.m. the eruption plume had reached over 65,000 feet in altitude.
Isavia, the company responsible for Iceland’s air traffic, said the airspace shutdown was standard procedure. “The plume of smoke has reached jet flying altitude and plans have been made for planes flying through Icelandic air control space to fly southwardly tonight,” said Hjordis Gudmundsdottir, company spokeswoman,AP reports.
The Grimsvötn volcano, Iceland’s largest and most active, is situated beneath the huge Vatnajökull icecap in the southeastern part of the country. Scientists had been expecting an eruption of Grimsvötn and the volcano’s history shows prior eruptions have not had a major impact on air traffic.
Iceland’s latest volcanic eruption is believed to be a minor event compared to last year’s Eyjafjallajökull. “It can be a big eruption, but it is unlikely to be like last year,” said Hjorleifur Sveinbjornsson, geologist with IMO, according to BBC.
The Eyjafjallajökull eruption in April 2010 created air traffic chaos last year, impacting about 10 million travelers when Europe experienced its largest airspace closure since World War II.
Shortly after those major airspace shutdowns, based in part on fears of volcanic ash being sucked into jet engines, critics said the closures were based on over-reaction, but a just-released study in April shows authorities acted appropriately.
“Aviation authorities made the right decision,” said Susan Stipp, a geoscientist at the University of Copenhagen, Wired reports. Result of her team’s study was published in the April 25 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study found volcanic ash particles retain their sharp and jagged edges, even after a two-week washing experiment. “The particles remain extremely sharp even after they’ve been grinding against each other,” Stipp added.
Chart courtesy Icelandic Met Office.
Chart of Grimsvötn's seismic activity before and during eruption.
Grimsvötn last erupted in November 2004. Its ash composition differs from Eyjafjallajökull’s fine-grained volcanic ash in being more coarse, making it fall to the ground quicker than the Eyjafjallajökull eruption.