Sunday, April 18, 2010

Meet Mount Eyjafjallajökull

Meet Mount Eyjafjallajökull (ayvah lowgh-k), a volcano with a name that now befuddles native English speakers, but one that most of us might very well end up learning to pronounce, at least badly. Although there's no way for mere mortals to be certain of it, volcanologists would not be surprised if this Icelandic volcano kept disgorging ashen dragons (like the one pictured above) from its widening craters (pictured below) for some time to come.

Those who study volcanoes assure us that the eruptions that started on March 20 and that have, in the last four days, fully or partially shut down aviation in 23 European nations are not major ones, as volcanic eruptions go. But they could persist, on and off, for years. If that scenario comes to pass, then the nightmare depicted by Norwegian expressionist, Edvard Munch, in response to the climate-changing eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, which turned sunsets over Europe blood red, will not be far off the mark, at least in economic terms.

Europe's economy depends on air transport, as do large segments of the economies of Europe's trading partners, but the particulate glass spewn into the atmosphere by Eyjafjallajökull damages jet engines, as happened to a Finnish air force Hornet before air flight restrictions were put in place. Already, foods and flowers grown in Africa and Israel for European markets are starting to rot.

The photo below shows "daring pilots approaching the melting glacier" near the eruption, with torrents of meltwater in the background. Neither pilots nor planes are identified in this photo, but I suspect the pilots to be members of the Icelandic Coast Guard taking geophysicists from the Icelandic Meteorological Office in for a better view of the event.

Serious misery could be in store if Eyjafjallajökull's eruption triggers an eruption of its gigantic neighbor, Katla, an event with considerable historic precedence. Geophysicists have been predicting an eruption by Katla, which lies buried under a glacier, since about 1999.

In happier days, a resting Eyjafjalljökull looked like this, seen through the brush of painter Ólafur Túbals:

It is perhaps a good moment to consider that volcanic eruptions are common and a necessary part of Earth's grand cycle. As you read this post, about 20 volcanoes are erupting. This year, 50 to 70 volcanoes will erupt. And, by 2020, about 160 volcanoes will have erupted.

Hat tips: The Strata-Sphere; Wax Lips.