Iceland volcanic ash: flights update

Aviation authorities across Europe do not expect major delays caused by the erupting Grimsvotn volcano in Iceland.

Civil aviation authorities believe they will be able to cope even if the ash cloud reaches northern Scotland by midday Tuesday and on to England and parts of Spain and France by Friday. Such a situation is possible if the eruption and wind direction remain as they are now. Alternatively, the wind could change and the volcano could quieten down rapidly.

Iceland’s international airports remain closed for the time being and will remain so until at least 18.00 this evening, and possibly into tomorrow.

Ash has now been recorded as falling in the northeast town of Vopnafjordur and the south-western towns of Selfoss and Hvolsvollur are on ash alert. There is ash over the Westman Islands, but none of it has fallen to the ground, RUV reported.

Meanwhile, scientists are saying there has never been more lightening measured inside the ash plume of any Icelandic volcano. In just one hour today there were 2,198 lightening bolts recorded. Research suggests that lightening is caused in volcanoes when the ash, smoke and steam rise extremely fast and the water freezes. The high number of lightening strikes seems to confirm that the current eruption is quite intense; albeit coming from a small crater. The ash which is falling is said to be irritating and coarse, but very low in fluorine and other toxic chemicals. Iceland’s cheif epidemiologist Haraldur Briem says that the distribution of dust masks and safety glasses is going well and that they make a proven difference.

Some people would rather forego the masks and glasses and leave the area altogether and police have now allowed people to do just that — as long as they travel west. It is mostly tourists who have taken the opportunity to leave Kirkjubaejarklaustur and surrounding areas.

Eight people in two groups set off from the town of Hofn this morning hoping to get away from the ash; but the road to the west past the Vatnajokull glacier is closed for safety purposes. The first group of four were out of contact for several hours, but are now known to be safe at Gullfoss. The second group has now been traced to the East Fjords. All members are safe.

Despite the fact that the ash is low in poisons, farmers have already decided to start bringing their animals in — although this can be difficult with poor visibility.

The school in Kirkjbaejarklaustur will be closed tomorrow and the Red Cross has opened a crisis counselling helpline for worried people in the area on phone number 1717.

(Photo: Kristjan Sveinbjornsson //