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Icelandic volcano could cause major air traffic delays

File photo courtesy: Wikipedia

File photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, August 19, 2014, 6:12 PM - Iceland's Bárðarbunga (Bardarbunga) volcano may be on the verge of an eruption, putting airline carriers on high alert.

Seismologists are watching the crater closely following an a recent rash of earthquakes in the area.

"We've known for some time that Bárðarbunga was going to do something – we just didn’t know what. Now she has stirred, she is giving us clues about what she is going to do. The clues from the pattern of earthquakes show that seismic energy is being expended in two main clusters – one to the North East on the glacier margin, and one to the East under the ice. Adding in the clues from the pattern of earth movements indicates that magma is moving towards the surface, and if it gets there it will erupt," said Dr. Dave McGarvie, Senior Lecturer in Volcanology at the Open University, in a statement.

European airlines have already been warned about the risk, bringing back memories of Iceland's 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption.

That event caused countless delays and cancellations over a three-month period, impacting an estimated 10 million travelers and costing $1.7 billion in lost revenue.

RELATED: Drone captures stunning video of volcano erupting

On Monday Iceland's meteorological office raised Bardarbunga's risk level to orange -- the second-highest rating on the five-level scale.

Located under Icleand's largest glacier, a Bardarbunga eruption could cause massive floods from glacial melt, prompting the preemptive closure of roads in the area. 

"The good news for air travel is that both clusters [of seismic activity] are away from the heart of the main volcano, as it’s in the heart that the kind of magma is produced which leads to highly explosive eruptions that produce the abundant fine ash capable of being transported long distances through the atmosphere," Dr. McGarvie says.

"Current indications are that if an eruption happens it will produce modest amounts of denser ash and only cause local disruption to air travel. But we know so little about this volcano that she could surprise us.”

Bardarbunga is Iceland's fourth most-active volcano, having last erupted in 1794.


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