Not by Fire but by Ice
THE NEXT ICE AGE - NOW!
Discover What Killed the Dinosaurs . . . and Why it Could Soon Kill Us
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That's what it did in 1823
By Robert Felix
But what if this eruption should continue for more than a year?
More than a year? Unfortunately, that's a distinct possibility.
"The last time Eyjafjallajökull erupted [in 1823], it lasted for more than a year," says Bill McGuire, director of the Aon Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre at University College London. "So we could see more of the same disruption over the coming months."
When the eruption began about three weeks ago, it appeared "safe" and quickly became a prime tourist attraction, says Iris Erlingsdottir, Icelandic journalist and writer.
Guided tours were available by bus, all-terrain vehicle, snowmobile, and helicopter from nearby Reykjavik, with people getting so close that they were getting pelted with rock and ash. Some enterprising chefs set up a restaurant of sorts near the volcano, and sold lava-grilled lobster and the like for premium prices
New eruption ten times more powerful
However, the new eruption - about ten times more powerful than the "tourist eruption" - is located under a glacier. The glacier melted, causing glacier runs (jökulhlaup) that have twice flooded the south of Iceland. At the same time, a vast cloud of ash rose 30,000 feet into the air and many countries shut down their airspace. Airlines have already lost a billion dollars.
Some economists think the shutdown could drive many European countries back into depression, especially if it continues. The consequences for the EU could be fatal.
But I think that's the least of our worries.
I don't think the world understands just how dangerous these Icelandic volcanoes can be, or how far-reaching the effects. I think we'd be looking at worldwide famine.
Iceland's Laki eruption in 1783 had the largest outflow of lava since 934 AD, says Erlingsdottir. The 934 AD lava flow came from the Eldgjį fissure system, also on Iceland, and unleashed the largest flood of basalt on the planet in historic times.
Flouride emitted by the Laki eruption killed half of Iceland's livestock, and the ensuing famine killed a quarter of Iceland's population. It spewed a vast toxic cloud of sulfur dioxide over Western Europe killing tens of thousands, and contributed to several years of extreme weather and reduced crop production. Some link that eruption, which helped fuel famine, to the French Revolution.
Mississippi River reportedly froze in New Orleans
By "extreme weather," I mean cold.
The winter of 1784 was one of the longest and coldest on record in North America," says a recent article on MSNBC. "New England reported a record stretch of below-zero temperatures and New Jersey reported record snow accumulation. The Mississippi River also reportedly froze in New Orleans."
But the problem with Eyjafjallajökull (also called Eyjafjoll) is Katla, a neighboring volcano just eight miles away.
Because each of the previous three large Eyjafjallajökull eruptions since Iceland's settlement (920, 1612, and 1821-23) has been followed by a major Katla eruption, there is speculation that the current activity could be a precursor to a new Katla explosion.
Katla, often called Iceland's most dangerous volcano, is part of the same volcanic system as Eyjafjoll and Eldgjį (which "unleashed the largest flood of basalt on the planet in historic times"), and lies buried beneath the Mżrdalsjökull glacier.
Katla has violently erupted on many occasions, says Erlingsdottir. It has caused "sudden floods of unthinkable violence (water flow during the two-day jökulhlaup associated with the most recent subglacial eruption at Katla was 200,000 cubic meters of water per second; the Amazon's flow is 10,000 cubic meters per second) leaving the survivors on mountaintops that became islands for days at a time."
Katla eruption could be one hundred times what we’re seeing now
Although it has historically erupted every 40-80 years, its last major eruption was in 1918, so it is considered about 40 years overdue. If Katla goes, the force could be one hundred times what we’re seeing now.
If Katla goes, says a recent article on USA Today, it would likely send the world, including the USA, into an extended deep freeze.
When Katla went off in the 1700s, the USA suffered a very cold winter," says Gary Hufford, a scientist with the Alaska Region of the National Weather Service. "The Mississippi River froze just north of New Orleans and the East Coast, especially New England, had an extremely cold winter.
"Katla could cause some serious weather changes," says Hufford. It depends on the duration of the eruption, and how high the ash gets blasted into the stratosphere.
When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, it spewed ash 70,000 feet into the stratosphere for two days and temperatures dropped worldwide about four degrees for about a year.
Two days ... and temperatures dropped about four degrees for about a year. Can you imagine the consequences if Pinatubo had continued for a year or more?
Like it or not, the fact is that volcanoes have radically changed our environment in the past. Why should today be any different?
The Laki and Asama eruptions of 1783 were followed by an unusually cold year. The Tambora eruption in 1815 was followed in 1816 by a "year without a summer." A marked decrease in solar radiation in 1884-85 followed the Krakatoa eruption. The costs of a major eruption today would be catastrophic.
"Our work suggests that eventually there will be either somewhat larger eruptions or more frequent eruptions in Iceland in coming decades," said Freysteinn Sigmundsson, a vulcanologist at the University of Iceland.
Maybe Katla will explode. Maybe it won't. Maybe the new volcano will continue to grow. Maybe it will just fizzle out over the next few months. There are simply some events over which we have no control.
I see this latest eruption as just one more step in our descent into the next ice age.
You've heard me say it before, but let me say it again.
Institute your food storage plan NOW! (And no, I don't sell food : )
And good luck
Robert W. Felix
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