If past is prelude, then the volcanic eruption in Iceland whose plume of ash has grounded almost 300 flights across Europe may not only affect air travel in the coming days, it may also have a lingering impact on Europe’s weather. Experts are looking back to the aftereffects of a previous eruption–when the Laki volcano in Southern Iceland exploded more than 200 years ago. That explosion had catastrophic consequences for weather, agriculture and transport across the northern hemisphere – and helped trigger the French revolution [The Guardian].
The Laki volcanic fissure erupted over a eight month period between June 1783 and February 1784. Within Iceland, the lava and poisonous clouds of gas ushered in a time known as the “Mist Hardships”: farmland was ruined, livestock died in vast numbers, and the resultant famine killed almost a quarter of the population.
The eruption’s impact wasn’t confined to Iceland alone. Dust and sulfur particles thrown up by the explosion were carried as a haze across Northern Europe, clouding the skies in Norway, the Netherlands, the British Isles, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. In conjunction with another volcanic eruption and an unusually strong El Nino weather pattern, the Laki eruption is thought to have contributed to extreme weather across Europe for the next several years.
Don’t be fooled by the name—Iceland is one of the hottest hotspots in the world, geologically speaking. The island’s volcanic legacy reared its head again yesterday as a massive eruption by a volcano beneath a glacier caused the evacuation of hundreds of residents and created ash clouds that delayed flights all around Northern Europe.
The volcano, called Eyjafjallajokull, rumbled last month, but that was nothing like this. “This is a very much more violent eruption, because it’s interacting with ice and water,” said Andy Russell, an expert in glacial flooding at the University of Newcastle in northern England. “It becomes much more explosive, instead of a nice lava flow oozing out of the ground” [AP]. The flood caused by melted glacial ice caused the evacuation about 800 people. Waters threatened to spill over onto Highway 1, Iceland’s main highway that makes a circuit around the island. But some quick digging by construction crews altered the course of the water.