It has happened before. It can happen again.
It appears the volcano in Iceland is not going to go back to sleep without causing mankind to take notice of the disruption possible. Thousands of flights have been canceled by the the ash cloud ejected from the eruption under a glacier. The ash is even more destructive to air traffic because some of it may be turned to glass by the ice before being ejected high into the air.We’ll just have to wait and see if this will last for weeks and cause major economic disruption in North Atlantic and European transportation, or fade away quietly. I wouldn’t bet on either.
We rode mountain bikes across Iceland one spring and learned just how unstable a place it can be. No, not the banking system, that might be another post, but the land itself. Iceland is part of the Atlantic Ridge, where Earth’s crust is being ripped apart as the tectonic plates slide on the molten mantle. In the first picture, Claire is straddling the North American plate and the European plate.
All this volcanic activity so close to the surface has been both a blessing and curse to Icelanders since settlement times. Steam from vents warms homes, produces electricity and draws tourists for their short summer. But where there is steam, there is fire, and water. With lots of precipitation, and just bussing the Arctic Circle, Iceland is and land of fire and ice, and roaring powerful rivers. Iceland has the third forth and fifth largest ice sheets on Earth, quite a distinction for such a small island nation.
Powerful rivers with thundering waterfalls carry the rain and glacier melt to the sea, along the away, often harnessed for electricity to smelt aluminum from ore shipped from all over the world. In recent years this has been a major contributor to the Iceland’s economy, replacing the fishing industry facing increased competition in the North Atlantic fishery. The harnessing of their rivers is a contentious issue with Icelanders; they like the money, but aren’t so sure about the environmental consequences. The also fear the consequences for the unprecedented purity of their gene pool, from the importation of foreign smelter workers.
This beautiful lady we met at a national park in the far north. She is pure Icelandic, lovely and nice too. She is studying to be an opera singer in Europe, and works summers as a park ranger. For years, scientists have been using Iceland as a place to study the genetic makeup of humans; their line goes back to the 9th century, and they are isolated halfway between continents and far north. With new gene sequencing methods, it won’t matter so much if science looses that pure strain, but it seems to be still important to the people of Iceland. I wouldn’t call it racism in this case, more cultural pride.
Should you be concerned with a small volcano on a tiny island nation far away? Possibly. Activity in the current location has always been a precursor to large eruptions under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in southern Iceland. In 1783 an eruption killed a fifth of the population by famine, and created severe climate disruptions in Europe. A large, ash producing eruption, could cause rapid climate change in many parts of the northern hemisphere. Geologic evidence points to many such events in human history.
So, are you ready for a winter all summer next year? You might want to watch tiny Iceland for the foreseeable future.