Iceland volcano eruption making an ash of itself

By Phil Plait | April 15, 2010 12:21 pm

The Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull has erupted for the second time this month, sending a long plume of ash across the north Atlantic into the UK, enough to disrupt air traffic there!

NASA’s Terra satellite caught the plume:


You can easily see the plume extending from Iceland across the ocean.’s The Big Picture has dramatic and beautiful shots of the volcano as well.

I’ve seen a few volcanoes in my time, but I’ve never witnessed an actual eruption. I’d really like to… from a safe distance. This particular eruption is likely to be a big pain to a lot of people for quite some time; there have already been floods and evacuations due to the activity. I feel badly for those folks affected, but I also can’t help but gasp in awe at the beauty of events like these. It always amazes me that violence on such a large scale — volcanoes, solar flares, supernovae, galactic collisions — can also be so beautiful.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Iceland, volcano

Comments (62)

  1. Dwatney

    So, how exactly do you pronounce that volcano’s name?

  2. DrFlimmer

    It also disrupts air traffic over Scandinavia, northern Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

    Let’s see where it will head next….

  3. Jim

    @Dwatney — very carefully.

    Seriously though, there’s a sound file on the Wikipedia page.

  4. James

    I would recommend Iceland as an amazing holiday location, it’s like going to another planet.

    Our guide told us this volcano was due to erupt soon, I’m glad it waited for us to leave.

  5. Hugo

    2012 is comming!

  6. Keewa

    As it looks


  7. Doug

    “Eyjafjallajökull” …

    Did you just bash your head against the keyboard? Or did you get a cat without telling us?

  8. Yngve

    Impressive satelite picture :-)

    Too bad the skies are overcast here in Tromsø, Northern Norway today… I was hoping for a spectacular volcanic sunset… :)

    I just hope it doesn’t last too long, since all the planes are grounded.

  9. Hakon

    The ash has grounded all flights in Norway, and I hear all the rest of Scandinavia and most of western Europe is affected as well.

  10. Mr. D

    Wow! Heard on the news today about flights being grounded. Wanted to see a satellite image of the plume, should have guessed you would put one up Phil!

  11. Trebuchet

    Great stuff as usual on “The Big Picture” but a little bad science in the caption for image number 7. They refer to “smoke and steam” rising from the eruption. Since there’s “no smoke without fire”, and lava and ice aren’t known for their combustibility, I’d guess that “ash and steam” would have been more correct.

    I’ve seen major eruptions of Mt. St. Helens from 50-100 miles, and steam rising from where the lava of Kilauea enters the sea, but nothing like this. I too would love to!

  12. Gary Ansorge

    Oh well, there goes my prediction for a hot 2010(at least, in Europe).

    ,,,but sunsets should be excellent.

    I wonder if the ash will make it to the US eastern seaboard?

    Gary 7

  13. It’s “feel bad,” Phil. I’m sure your sense of touch is okay.

  14. PsyberDave

    Holy Eyjafjallajökull!

    Death From the Earth!

  15. John Baxter

    This so far is my favorite photo of the event: (including northern lights).

  16. Michel

    Nice foto of the ash cloud approaching Scotland:
    h t tp://

  17. Levi in NY

    Actually, it’s pronounced [ˈɛɪjaˌfjatlaˌjœkʏtl̥], or roughly AY-yah-FYAHT-lah-YURK-ittle, with the main stress on the first syllable. In Icelandic the J’s are pronounced like English Y’s and the double L’s are pronounced “tl”. The vowels Ö and U have no good English equivalents.

    Bet you can’t say “Popocatépetl Eyjafjallajökull” ten times fast.

  18. Michel

    And here you can see how empty European airspace is at the moment:
    h t tp://

  19. ChH

    Gary Ansorge – I’d think the ash plume would reach Alaska long before it reaches the Eastern USA.

  20. Sticks

    This is because we tried to foreclose on the debt they would not repay.

  21. jcm

    @Hugo (#5): Yeah. Right!

  22. Jeffersonian

    If you Icelanders would just move your island off the mid-Atlantic trench, you wouldn’t have these problems!

  23. Bob

    @trebuchet, with this much lava, and lava being like really, uber hot, there would be fire even though its fire and ice.

    And @Levi in NY-Popocatépetl Eyjafjallajökull ten times fast

  24. With apologies to the Ames Brothers…


  25. Paul Van Loan

    This is no laughing matter– the last time this volcano had a major eruption, it significantly depressed tempaeratures throughout the northern hemisphere for a year.


    Shoeshine Boy(#13):

    It’s “feel bad,” Phil. I’m sure your sense of touch is okay.

    This is from — bad:

    Usage note
    The adjective BAD meaning “unpleasant, unattractive, unfavorable, spoiled, etc.,” is the usual form to follow such copulative verbs as sound, smell, look, and taste: After the rainstorm the water tasted bad; The coach says the locker room smells bad. After the copulative verb feel, the adjective BADLY, in reference to physical or emotional states, is also used and is standard, although BAD is more common in formal writing: I feel bad from overeating; She felt badly about her friend’s misfortune.
    When the adverbial use is required, BADLY is standard with all verbs: She reacted badly to the criticism. BAD as an adverb appears mainly in informal contexts: I didn’t do too bad on the tests; He wants money so bad it hurts.

    So, it’s OK to say “feel badly” in informal contexts.

  27. Jón Grétar

    John Baxter: That pictures is from last months eruption that occurred some miles to the east. That one was considered a cute little thing for the tourists (thousands wen up there to see it from less than a mile’s distance). However this new one is 10-20 times bigger (still not considered BIG in Icelandic terms) and it’s a lot scarier as depicted in this picture

    Btw. Here are 3 webcams here pointing at this. Today was to cloudy to see much but it’s totally worth it to check it every now and then and see if the clouds are gone. This really is a cool sight.

  28. Paul Van Loan — Of course, “This is no laughing matter,” but what can one do? Joking is a natural response to the ineffable.

  29. MadScientist

    That’s only the bit that’s obvious to the eye – I would recommend looking for analyses from the infrared instruments out there (MODIS, AIRS) which would typically be superior at showing the extent of the plume. As far as the eye is concerned, the volcanic plume is not always readily distinguished from clouds.

    Speaking of solar flares, wasn’t there a huge CME a few days ago? Any related aurorae observed yet?

  30. DLC

    [stupid] SEE, this is just Gawduh savin us from teh evil Global warmin! [/stupid]

    I was around when Mt St Helens blew it’s stack. That was quite the show, for the time.

  31. Meskine

    Paul Van Loan – I live in Texas. Significantly depressed tempaeratures throughout the northern hemisphere for a year works for me.

  32. jonathan

    when did the volcano erupt

  33. Jan D

    Last pic in the Boston Globe series is a nice one of the plume too:

  34. Grand Lunar

    @ 5. Hugo

    Well of course it is. After all, it comes after 2011. 😀

  35. Bob_In_Wales

    It’s a beautiful day here in Wales. Clear blue skies, a cool gentle breeze … oh, and did I say _clear_ skies? Not a contrail in sight – normally the sky is full of them on a day like this.

    _All_ UK airports are shut and hundreds of thousands of people are not where they expected to be. The news tells me that as of midday today (Friday) we’ve had about six flights in total in or out of the UK.

    People who had planned to travel to the continent are taking the ferries, which have overcapacity as it is. People who were headed say for the US of A and other further afield places are … ummm …

    And really, its only a small volcano.

    So, my question is this: Just how prepared is the developed world to deal with major natural events which happen on short timescales? Do we really have any idea, say, when we say we could “adapt” to rapid climate change, just how severe the “adjustments” would have to be?

    (Stir, stir).

  36. MadScientist

    @Bob_In_Wales: yes, I can’t help but laugh when people say things like “climate change is OK, we’ll just relocate farms and cities” as if doing so were a trivial task. Disrupting air traffic is nothing really (though the people affected may not think so). Fortunately most goods are moved by ship (and then trucks) so it’s not as if large populations will starve to death because of the eruption.

  37. mike bukhart

    This might cause a cooling trend. The year 1815 was called “the year without summer” a volcanic eruption (I can’t recall witch one)caused winter like conditions in the northeast part of North America all summer it snowed all summer causeing crop failure . Many people moved out.

  38. Lawrence
  39. Pi-needles

    @12. Gary Ansorge Says:

    Oh well, there goes my prediction for a hot 2010 (at least, in Europe).

    Not necessarily – this is after all apparently just a *small* eruption. 😉

    A spectacular and for overseas travellers and pilots highly annoying one but a relatively small one nonetheless.

    (As 37. Bob_In_Wales noted.)

    @ 37. Bob_In_Wales:

    Just how prepared is the developed world to deal with major natural events which happen on short timescales?

    Good question – & Hurricane Katrina is another example along with (albeit to a far lesser extent) the “Snowmageddon” / “Snowpocalypse” / “Really big snow storm” thing last winter.

    I think it varies on the city / country and on the exact nature of the disaster and a number of other factors too. Yeah, I don’t really know except that in some ways we may be over reliant on technology and thus probably a lot more vulnerable than we think we are.

  40. Jeff

    These natural events in 2010 just remind one that we are on a PLANET’s surface. We take everyday occurences so much for granted, we think of this as a home instead of a planet. But sit out there in a lawn chair for an hour, like you just came in today from planet Mercury, and notice carefully that you really are on a planet with all the sights and sounds of a planet. Man civilizing this earth! Nonsense. Nothing of the kind. Even in the densest urban jungles, you can’t keep the natural world out.

  41. fatkid

    Bob, I live under the flightpaths of Ohare and Midway airports. I never saw a bluer sky than on 9/12/01, glad the plume isn’t dimming your day.

    Watching the European traffic disaster unfold makes me glad I have a mountain bike and a months supply of food and water on hand. If the sh_t really hits the fan, how much google stock will some elitist prick trade me for a twinkie once he’s already eaten his dog?

  42. MadScientist

    @mike #39: As Lawrence (#40) says, Tambora. However, that eruption was quite a few orders of magnitude greater than this one; if you’re familiar with the Pinatubo eruption, that was just a tiny ‘pop!’ compared to Tambora. I doubt this eruption is anywhere near a size required to cause any measurable cooling.

  43. squirrelelite
  44. Raghu_India

    What about health of people living in ash settled area ?
    Not Ice-Land now onwards Ash-land!

  45. Anna

    Can somone please explain how it is possible for the ash particles to stay in the air for years and not fall to earth immediately.

  46. Messier Tidy Upper

    Another story with link here :

    is this one – David Attenborough has apparently been stranded by the Icelandic eruption while making perhaps his last documentary trip. :-(

  47. Carter L.

    I heard that it was only going to affect those in the northern parts of North America such as Alaska, Northern Provinces of Canada, I do not think that it is going to affect those in the Deep South though.

  48. ilhan

    when had the volcano erepted?

  49. ilhan

    and what contrys had it covered gas with?

  50. Terry

    I’m supposed to be vacationing in Scandanavia the beginning of May.
    Does anyone have info on what affect the ash has/will have there?
    Ex.- Has the sun become hidden? Does it smell? Is it hard to breathe?
    Should we cancel our trip? Thanks for any help.

  51. Jessica

    This doent hewlp me for my geography assessment !

  52. Stonehead

    Eyjafjallajökull is just a nuisance – while disruptive (at least for air-traffic here in N. Europe), it is nowhere near as powerful as Katla, which I believe you are referring to (or is it Laki?).
    Katla is a “big-sister” volcano about 40 km away. It is about one hundred times bigger, and has a history of erupting shortly after Eyjafjallajökull (it did the last three times…).
    If it does, the consequences can be severe. Katla is – unlike most other Icelandic volcanoes – an “explosive” volcano, much like Pinatubo or Tambora. It can spew ashes 20 km up into the atmosphere, which can block sunlight, and lower average temperatures significantly.

    @53 & 54:
    The only place that is directly affected by gases and ashes, is Iceland. The ash-cloud restricts air-traffic in parts of Europe (for the moment), but has no impact on people (or animals) on the ground, outside Iceland.
    In fact, the air-pollution has gone DOWN here in Denmark! – Perhaps as a result of the airspace being closed since Thursday… :-)

  53. I am looking forward to 2012.


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