Ash Crisis May Not Be Over, Says Leading Volcanologist

Apr 21, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Air travel may be resuming in some European countries, but Michael F. Sheridan, PhD, a leading volcanologist and founder of the University at Buffalo's Center for Geohazards Studies, says that the future behavior of both the volcanic ash cloud and the eruptive system that spurred it is difficult to predict.

"It's hard to forecast the behavior of this volcanic system," he says. "It is short-sighted to assume that even if returns to normal that the related to the eruption will end immediately."

In addition to air travel woes that the massive ash cloud has already caused, it may trigger longer-term changes in and health hazards, Sheridan says.

His concern stems from his understanding of similar kinds of eruptions that have occurred in this part of Iceland.

"The in this region is slowly pulling apart along giant fissures that extend deep enough to reach magma sources," he says. "The volcanic magma rises along these fissures and erupts in episodes when and where the fractures break at the surface."

Eruptions at adjacent volcanoes could be linked to the same spreading episode, he adds, producing a compound effect.

The Eldgjá eruption of 934 AD was the largest outpouring of flood basalt lava in historic times. Eruptions of Katla , a part of the Eldgjá volcanic fracture system, also are sometimes linked to eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

"Icelandic volcanoes that erupted from fissures have, in the past, produced a profound climatic effect that can last several years," he says, recalling the 1783-84 eruption of Lakigigar. "In Europe, it produced three years of severe winters and a heat wave in the summer following the onset of the eruption." he says.

There also were a large number of deaths related to the high fluorine content of the ash, as well as health effects resulting from the dense volcanic haze or fog.

Sheridan also notes that Eyjafjallajökull hasn't readily yielded its history to scientists and observers.

"This volcano has a much more enigmatic record than others that have more frequent eruptions," he says. "It's not like we know the size of its magma chamber, the volume of its products or its history. Its previous eruption lasted for two years, from 1821-23.

"It's a clever criminal, in that sense," he says.

Sheridan, who was a Fulbright Scholar in Iceland in 1978, has spent the past four decades mapping hazards from active volcanoes in Italy, Mexico, Ecuador and throughout the world, so that civil authorities know how and when to evacuate populations at risk. He has studied ways to improve mitigation efforts during and after volcanic eruptions and other geologic hazards, such as mudslides and the effects of hurricanes like Katrina.

Explore further: Checking the first data from OCO-2

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Icelandic volcanoes can be unpredictable and dangerous

Apr 16, 2010

If history is any indication, the erupting volcano in Iceland and its immense ash plume could intensify, says a Texas A&M University researcher who has explored Icelandic volcanoes for the past 25 years.

Volcanic Quakes Help Forecast Eruptions

Dec 22, 2009

Monitoring the earthquakes caused from magma movements inside an active volcano could help to improve the accuracy of forecasting an eruption.

Tracking a hot spot

May 17, 2007

Using a state-of-the-art satellite imagery technique, researchers are able to more precisely predict volcanic activity, bringing them steps closer to understanding where an eruption may occur. A new research study, titled ...

Recommended for you

Checking the first data from OCO-2

2 minutes ago

(Phys.org) —On July 2, NASA successfully launched its first satellite dedicated to measuring carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission—operated by NASA's ...

Canada to push Arctic claim in Europe

12 hours ago

Canada's top diplomat will discuss the Arctic with his Scandinavian counterparts in Denmark and Norway next week, it was announced Thursday, a trip that will raise suspicions in Russia.

Severe drought is causing the western US to rise

17 hours ago

The severe drought gripping the western United States in recent years is changing the landscape well beyond localized effects of water restrictions and browning lawns. Scientists at Scripps Institution of ...

A NASA satellite double-take at Hurricane Lowell

18 hours ago

Lowell is now a large hurricane in the Eastern Pacific and NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites double-teamed it to provide infrared and radar data to scientists. Lowell strengthened into a hurricane during the ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

out7x
not rated yet Apr 22, 2010
Just shoot a seismic 3D-3C survey over the volcanic area, 1 yr. separation. Will be able to predict then.