Iceland activated the National Crisis Coordination Center (NCCC) on August 20, 2014 to evacuate the area around the Barðarbunga volcano in the face of increasing earthquake activity in the region as they await an eruption and consider the implications for climatic impact. Geologist Ari Trausti Guðmundsson explains that scientists cannot predict whether a volcanic eruption will consist of ash and pumice, flooding or lava. Depending on the nature of the eruption, the country could see floods that would restrict ground travel, or ash clouds, which present a risk to air travel. Furthermore, volcanic eruptions can have a long-term effect on climate, producing either warming or cooling effects.
A volcano’s climatic impact stems from the massive amounts of gasses, aerosols and ash pushed into the stratosphere. Those that do not fall to earth and dissipate within days or weeks can contribute to global climate change. If the Barðarbunga volcano ejects a column of ash particles and sulfuric gases, a hazy cloud could cover not only Iceland, but also the entire planet within weeks, blocking sunlight and causing global cooling according to Scientific American (SA). On the other hand, the quantity of carbon dioxide released in the volcanic eruption could produce a greenhouse effect that traps radiated surface heat and warms the planet. SA points out, however, that volcanoes produce a nominal amount of carbon dioxide in comparison to human activity.
The 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland shut down air travel over parts of Europe for almost a month. In some cases, airline disruptions due to volcanic activity can last much longer. It is not visibility that worries pilots when ash clouds fill the air, explains The Weather Channel. Rather, the airborne chemicals can damage the engines, clog ventilation and cause the aircraft to stall. Anthropologist Gísli Pálsson, from the University of Iceland wants to avoid false alarms as the country awaits the volcano’s end game move, but the orange alarm signal issued by the NCCC gives airlines and rescuers time to prepare for the climatic impact of a Barðarbunga eruption.
Scientists are speculating about the climatic impact as Iceland awaits the Barðarbunga volcano eruption. However, regardless of the type of eruption, it could potentially cause sufficient glacial melting to trigger large-scale flooding. Guðmundsson predicts that the flood would follow a northeasterly route along the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum. The AP reports that area roads are already being closed as a precautionary measure.
Icelandic Prime Minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, civil defense officials, the National Commissioner of Police and the Coast Guard are working diligently to protect the island nation’s citizens and give them time to prepare for the Barðarbunga volcano eruption and the climatic impact that awaits in its wake. NASA reports that the potential side effects of climate change may be frequent wildfires, droughts and tropical storms. By increasing volcano surveillance and activating extra seismic monitors, officials are adding layers of protection to allow them to give the people of Iceland as much advance warning as possible of an imminent eruption so they can take any necessary protective measures.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Environmental Protection Agency
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