By John Ensor •
Updated: 17 Nov 2023 • 13:50
La Palma's Cumbre Vieja,October 2021.
Credit: Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock.com
THE volcano alert that currently hangs over Iceland, and possibly Europe, has drawn comparisons to the devastating volcanic eruption on the Island of La Palma in 2021.
A state of anxious calm permeates Iceland, particularly in the western fishing town of Grindavik. The town, deserted since last Friday, November 10, following an emergency evacuation, sits in the shadow of the looming Fagradalsfjall volcano, writes 20 Minutos.
The evacuation was triggered by fears of an imminent volcanic eruption. Since October 25, the region has witnessed over 30,000 earthquakes with magnitudes above five. Although seismic activity has decreased, the risk of an eruption remains high, leaving experts and locals on edge.
Thoughts inevitably turn to the recent Cumbre Vieja eruption on La Palma in September 2021. That eruption lasted nearly two months, leaving behind a trail of destruction: 2,500 buildings destroyed, thousands homeless, and extensive crop damage. The devastation caused by the volcano amounted to €843 million. This raises the question, could Iceland face a similar fate?
‘If it contacts the sea, it could have an explosive nature,’ states Luca D’Auria, director of the volcanic surveillance area of (Canary Islands Volcanological Institute) INVOLCAN. Reportedly this would be the worst possible scenario.
D’Auria warns of possible volcanic ash columns, reminiscent of the far-reaching disruptions to air traffic in 2010 , but not expected to be ‘extremely violent.’ Alternatively, an ‘effusive eruption on the ground’ could occur, likely causing less ash but still significant landscape alteration.
Grindavik’s infrastructure has already suffered damage worth ‘several million euros,’ with visible cracks in roads and buildings. While the probability of ash affecting air traffic is low, the potential release of sulfur dioxide poses a risk to air quality, dependent on wind direction.
Unlike Italy’s Mount Vesuvius, both Grindavik and La Palma do not have a defined eruption centre, leading to uncertainty in predictions. Both areas consist of a series of volcanoes, prone to eruption through unpredictable terrain fractures.
Iceland, positioned on an oceanic ridge, typically experiences cycles of volcanic activity separated by centuries of calm. The current seismic patterns, marked by large-scale ground deformations, differ significantly from previous occurrences.
In contrast to La Palma’s pre-eruption signs, which included minor earthquakes and small-scale deformations, Grindavik’s seismic activity has been more severe. The rapid evolution of the La Palma eruption caught experts off guard, leading to a delayed evacuation and extensive ash fallout.
Predicting the duration of a potential eruption remains challenging. D’Auria suggests it could last a few weeks, based on historical patterns. However, he emphasizes that an eruption is not a certainty, with possibilities ranging from a full-blown eruption to a mere magmatic intrusion in which lava remains below the surface and does not erupt.
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Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina.
He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.
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