Not that there’s anything particularly unexpected about Iceland’s volcanoes doing volcanic things! Iceland’s a paradise for volcano-holics (I’m a mild, amateur case) and since the place is often upwind of the UK, we often get some of the fall-out from eruptions. Anyone who can think as far back as 2010 should remember the chaos.
After the fun of learning to pronounce Eyjafjallajokull, at least Grimsvotn the following year wasn’t hard and this time it’s Iceland’s biggest volcano, Bardarbunga (the ‘d’ isn’t actually a ‘d’, it’s a letter that English gave up using a thousand years ago called an ‘eth’ and pronounced like the ‘th’ in ‘either’, apparently. I could probably go find the proper font to write it properly but I’m packing to leave for Orkney in the morning so it’s not a major priority. Apologies to any Icelanders who object to people taking liberties with their spelling.)
At present nobody seems to have a real idea of what the volcano is planning on doing. There’s some fairly significant earthquakes taking place around the rim of the volcano’s crater, which may be because of magma moving around within the plumbing system under the crater. If the crater decides to fall in, it could be quite spectacular given the half-kilometer of glacier perched on top of it (Vatnajokull) which might give us a fairly exciting ice-lands-on-molten-rock explosion. There’s also a dyke, an underground channel of magma, which is working its way roughly north-east and causing more earthquakes as it breaks and cracks its way through the cold rocks it meets. That’s currently about 40km long and a couple of kilometers underground, so we have a little time before it can reach the surface as an eruption, if that’s the end result.
Let’s be honest, this is a volcano. It doesn’t read books, predictions or other human-created stuff and it’ll do what it’s going to do regardless of anything we think or plan. It’ll do it when it’s ready, not when we want. Geological time is a great deal slower than human time – this might just be the precursor for a main event years in the future, or it might be a major eruption working up for next month some time. Or it might fizzle out as nothing but data for the next round of PhD students to work on.
So, how do you prep for a maybe-eruption of unknown size at an unknown date yet to come?
We know Icelandic eruptions can throw dust and ash our way, so it’s reasonable to consider taking a few precautions against volcanic ashfall. Dustmasks and eye-protection leap to mind, since volcanic ash has a nasty trick of turning into cement when it mixes with the fluids in your lungs, if inhaled, and is scratchy and painful in the eyes. The water-butts in the garden are already covered, so we shouldn’t get ash falling into the water. It might still land on the roofs and then get washed into the butts when it rains, of course. Volcanic ash varies in size down to about 1 micron, so our water-filters will handle that if necessary.
If it’s a big eruption, we know that volcanic gases (mainly sulfur dioxide) can cool the climate for a few years. That takes us into ‘bad winter’ preps and living in Northern Scotland, that’s hardly unexpected weather anyway – in fact the past few years we’ve been over-prepped for winter weather that just never showed up. It’s possible that we might see knock-on effects giving us poor summers in the next few years after a big eruption, in which case food prices will rise, so our stored food will come into play.
It’s unlikely to be worse than a few delayed flights and we’re taking the ferry to and from Orkney so that doesn’t really impinge on our lifestyle.
The longer the warm-up goes on, the worse the eruption could be – so my fingers are crossed that we get an eruption soon, even if I miss watching it live on the webcams because I’m off sight-seeing in Orkney! I have, however, reminded my daughter, who’s staying home, where the dust-masks are stored and packed some, just in case….