The BBC and other international media reported today that an eruption of the Katla volcano in Iceland is “imminent”. Icelandic scientists and worried tourism chiefs have been quick to point out that it is impossible to say what “imminent” means: it could still be years.
“Hundreds of metres under one of Iceland’s largest glaciers there are signs of an imminent volcanic eruption that could be one of the most powerful the country has seen in almost a century.”
With these words begins an extensive and interesting article on the BBC news website — one of today’s most read stories. The article tells the tale of a massive volcano which has every chance of unleashing a truly massive flood when it erupts under the glacier – dumping billions of litres of fresh water into the North Atlantic in a very short period of time.
National Geographic’s Iceland expert, Ford Cochran tells the BBC: “There have been more than 500 tremors in and around the caldera of Katla just in the last month, which suggests the motion of magma. And that certainly suggests an eruption may be imminent.”
The article, which can be read here, says that a big Katla eruption could have serious global impacts in areas including air transport; adding that an eruption is overdue, judged on recent historical records.
While the BBC article is nearly all true, geophysicists in Iceland point out that the phrase “an eruption may be imminent” means very little. An eruption could happen next week, or Katla may continue to rumble quietly for several more years before blowing.
In the meantime the South Iceland tourism industry is adamant that people should not avoid visiting Iceland. There is always the threat of an eruption in Iceland and they very often come as a complete surprise, they argue.
When Katla erupts, the well-rehearsed emergency plan will swing into force and Iceland’s well-trained rescuers and emergency services will, as usual, ensure that people are unharmed.
A small Katla eruption would have minimal impact on air travel; while a big one could ground planes in many countries — something which Icelandic tourism officials claim as a positive: if flights are cancelled it does not matter if the tourist is travelling to Iceland or anywhere else in Europe.
Whatever “imminent” turns out to mean with hindsight, IceNews will be a conscientious and reliable source of volcano news…even if the next volcanic eruption in Iceland surprises the world media by coming from a volcano which is not called Katla.
(Photos: Anders Peter Amsnæs // taken at Eyjafjallajökull in 2010)