Monday, 12 May 2014


Below is an article sent to me from the UK times. 

Sunday Times         27 April 2014
Britain faces climate chaos from toxic Icelandic volcano blast
Jonathan Leake, Environment Editor

Iceland’s Krafla volcano generates a fissure eruption — but on a far smaller
scale than the Laki event
BRITAIN’S greatest future threat may come not from flooding, terrorism or economic collapse but from a supervolcano erupting in Iceland, a Cabinet Office report is to warn ministers.

Such an eruption would blanket the UK and northern Europe with ash and toxic fumes, creating climatic chaos — including roastingly hot summers and bitterly cold winters, a cycle that could last several years, the report will warn.

The alert emerged from a study commissioned by the Cabinet Office from scientists at the Met Office, British Geological Survey (BGS), and the universities of Leeds, Edinburgh and others.

The scientists, who will detail their findings at the European Geosciences Union annual meeting in Vienna this week, found that such eruptions had happened before. The last was in 1783 but Iceland has produced at least three other large ones and more than 200 smaller ones in the last 1,130 years.

A paper, to be presented by Sue Loughlin, head of volcanology at the BGS, said that the study was prompted by the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010, when volcanic dust over Britain and the Atlantic became so dense that hundreds of flights had to be cancelled for fear it would cause aircraft engines to seize up.

Loughlin will say it has become apparent that Eyjafjallajokull was a relatively small event so the chaos it caused showed that volcanic eruptions present a far greater hazard to the UK than had been realised — with the greatest threat coming from a so-called “effusive gas-rich eruption”.

Her paper warns that such eruptions “typified by the Laki eruption in Iceland in 1783-84, have been identified as one of the three highest priority natural hazards faced by the UK”.

It means the Cabinet Office’s civil contingencies secretariat will now rank the threat of a supervolcanic eruption in Iceland alongside an outbreak of pandemic influenza, similar to the one that killed up to 100m people globally from 1918-20, and on a par with a terrorist attack involving a nuclear device.

The 1783 event began when lava erupted not from a classic, cone-shaped volcano but from a 17-mile crack that appeared in the Earth’s surface within the Grimsvotn volcanic complex in eastern Iceland.

Over the following eight months the crack’s 130 craters poured out 3.6 cubic miles of lava and generated lava fountains nearly a mile high.

The volcano devastated Iceland, killing 80% of the country’s livestock; 20% of the human population starved to death.

For Europe, however, the biggest impact came from the plume of fine dust and gases, including 120m tons of sulphur dioxide, that were carried 10 miles into the sky where high-level winds pushed them southwest.

Loughlin and her colleagues have conducted an extensive study of weather and mortality data in Britain. Their report says: “Meteorological records show that there was extreme heat in the summer of 1783, followed by an exceptionally cold winter in the northern hemisphere. There were unusual thunderstorms, ball lightning and large hailstones.”

The impact on health was also huge. Sulphur dioxide breathed into the lungs forms sulphuric acid, causing inflammation that can be fatal. In Britain, about 23,000 people are estimated to have died — in a population that was far lower than today and with fewer older people.

For David Cameron and his ministers, perhaps the most sobering aspect of the scientists’ report concerns the social turmoil caused by the Laki eruption — mostly linked to crops failing because of the bad weather. In France, this could even have helped provoke the French Revolution of 1789.

The sheer power of Iceland’s volcanoes emerged from other work that found they had poured out 20.8 cubic miles of lava over the past 1,130 years. Grimsvotn alone has erupted 21 times, while Katla, another volcanic system, has exploded 25 times.

The government has now set up a volcanic ash advisory centre, run by the Met Office, to monitor Iceland’s 30 active volcano systems.

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