Ash Crisis May Not Be Over, Says Leading Volcanologist

April 21, 2010

( -- 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: Scientists to evaluate Icelandic volcano eruption

Related Stories

Icelandic volcanoes can be unpredictable and dangerous

April 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

December 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

Heavy oils and petroleum coke raising vanadium emissions

December 15, 2017

Human emissions of the potentially harmful trace metal vanadium into Earth's atmosphere have spiked sharply since the start of the 21st century due in large part to industry's growing use of heavy oils, tar sands, bitumen ...

Climate change made Harvey rainfall 15 percent more intense

December 14, 2017

A team of scientists from World Weather Attribution, including researchers from Rice University and other institutions in the United States and Europe, have found that human-caused climate change made the record rainfall ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

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.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.