What risks does an Icelandic volcanic eruption pose to global air travel?

What risks does an Icelandic volcanic eruption pose to global air travel?

It’s hard to believe, but the eruptions from Eyjafjallajokul that caused chaos for air travellers were nearly 14 years ago.

However, volcanic activity from the same region is making headlines again, but would an eruption in Iceland bring global travel to a halt?

If an eruption happens there are two scenarios, an eruption on land or under the sea. Each with different potential outcomes for global travellers.

Travel Weekly spoke to Birta Líf Kristinsdóttir, a former pilot and Weather forecaster at the Icelandic Met Office.

If an eruption were to happen on land, there would be a “small lava eruption which will most likely not affect aviation in any significant way due to lack of an ash cloud,” she said.

“Due to groundwater in the area it is possible that at first there would be short-lived explosive activity with minor amounts of ash that might reach up to 1-3 km.

“In our initial response we would issue a SIGMET that reaches 18.000 FT (about 5,5 km). When confirmed that there is no ash in the atmosphere we would cancel that SIGMET and not warn for anything in the atmosphere,” Kristinsdóttir said.

A SIGMET is an advisory to pilots and aviators of significant (SIG) meteorological (MET) hazards.

“Another possible effect is a SO2 (Sulfur dioxide) cloud that could form.

“In previous eruptions on the peninsula pilots have refused to fly through that kind of cloud but have been able to take a different route to the airport. There is nothing to indicate that procedure would change,” she said.

The dangers would be very different should the eruption happen under the sea, a scenario that is considered to be less likely at the moment.

“An explosive eruption will happen with an ash cloud that could possibly reach up to 49.000 FT (that number is based on a previous explosive eruption on the peninsula in 1226).

“If that happens we will issue a SIGMET initially only identifying the place of eruption and shortly thereafter we will issue a second SIGMET identifying where the ash is spreading. This kind of scenario could affect aviation in a broader sense, including Europe,” she said.

Kristinsdóttir was quick to point out that this is not considered the most likely scenario.

“The initial response for aviation authorities to a volcanic ash SIGMET is to declare a danger area in a 120 nautical mile circle around the eruption and no clearance for any air traffic is given into that zone until an estimation of the ash cloud has been made.

“The difference from now and Eyjafjallajökull is that the responsibility to fly into an area of forecasted or reported volcanic ash is now in the hands of the airlines opposed to previously being in the hands of aviation authorities that did not give any clearances into that area,” she said.

Latest News