Iceland volcano warning: Increased seismic activity years after hundreds of flights axed

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Flights and air travel could face major disruption as Iceland’s most active volcano looks close to erupting again. Experts have said there are multiple indicators the Grímsvötn could blow. The last volcano eruption occurred in 2011 when it released ash 20 kilometres into the atmosphere. Around 900 flights had to be cancelled in the aftermath.

Now, Icelandic Met Office (IMO), have raised the Aviation Color Code from green to yellow.

This came after scientists recorded seismic activity indicating magma is building inside the Grímsvötn volcano.

According to the IMO, this doesn’t necessarily indicate an eruption is imminent.

Nevertheless, the volcano has reached “a level of unrest comparable to that observed prior to historic eruptions.”

A blast “could be triggered by depressurisation if the subglacial lake inside the caldera will drain and cause a flood or occur regardless, possibly with very weak precursory activity and short warning time, as seen in the eruption of 2011,” said the IMO.

The Office added: “The conditions at the volcano may change at any given time and the volcano may return to normal background conditions without further escalation.”

A volcano expert has warned an eruption could cause heavy local flooding as it lies under ice, but said this meant “a good scenario for Icelanders and also for air travel.”

“Grímsvötn is a peculiar volcano, as it lies almost wholly beneath the ice, and the only permanently visible part is an old ridge on its south side which forms the edge of a large crater. And it is along the base of this ridge, under the ice, that most recent eruptions have occurred,” wrote Dave McGarvie, a UK volcano expert, in an article in The Conversation.

The ice will serve to absorb some of the force of the eruption which will help limit the discharge of ash.

Ash will be hurled tens of miles into the air, rather than hundreds, and will disperse more quickly.

The IOM said there was currently no reason to change the alert level of civil protection due to Grímsvötn’s recorded activity.

However, if further seismic activity is detected, the volcano could move further up the IOM’s four-level scale, from yellow to orange and red.

The good news is that is Grímsvötn is less powerful than the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which erupted in 2010.

The event left 10 million air passengers stranded after grounding 100,000 flights all around the world and cost the European economy around £4billion.

Flights were grounded for days, leaving millions of people stranded.

Such was the strength of the ash cloud, it caused the most air travel disruption since World War Two.

Grímsvötn volcano erupts every five to 10 years.

Usually, an eruption is hard to forecast for scientists.

“Each volcano is different and they behave differently, and you can have different behaviour from one eruption to the other,” said. Sigrun Hreinsdottir, a geodetic scientist at GNS Science in New Zealand.

However, as Grímsvötn erupts relatively frequently, scientists have been able to pick up on the signs.

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