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Iceland Stands Down On Travel Alert: From Orange To Red and Back Again

timothy posted about 5 months ago | from the back-to-slight-chance-of-disaster dept.

Earth 29

Iceland's tiered system of air travel alerts went to orange last week, then to red with a believed under-ice eruption of the volcano beneath the Dyngjujokull glacier, but has now been eased back to orange. "Observations show that a sub-glacial eruption did not occur yesterday. The intense low-frequency seismic signal observed yesterday has therefore other explanations," the Icelandic Met Office said. The office had therefore decided to move the aviation warning code from red to orange, it said, but since there was no sign the seismic activity was slowing down, an eruption could still not be excluded. The national police commissioner said separately that all restrictions on aviation had been cancelled. Airspace of 140 by 100 nautical miles above the volcano had been closed to aircraft on Saturday.

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OMG (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47743611)

It's Global Warming again!

Just let the deniers try to ignore this!

Re:OMG (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47743663)

I believe in the science about global climate change. When you see the numbers about the air volume, how little pollution is needed to affect it and how much we pollute, it's a no-brainer.

This, however, is about volcanos. I don't see what we're doing that could do something on such a scale. And unlike air pollution, if there's a global problem with volcanos or tectonic plates, there's nothing we can do about it. Game over.

Re:OMG (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 5 months ago | (#47743765)

The right sort of volcanic eruption could cure global warming for a while. If it put enough SO2 in the upper atmosphere. Of course it would still cause mass starvation with the volcanic winter.

Anyway I don't know why they had an alert - surely it would take many hours for the lava to burn through the ice, so ther would be plenty of time to divert planes before it went boom and blocked the flight path with ash.

Re:OMG (4, Insightful)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 5 months ago | (#47743847)

Anyway I don't know why they had an alert - surely it would take many hours for the lava to burn through the ice, so ther would be plenty of time to divert planes before it went boom and blocked the flight path with ash.

It's probably better to set flight plans before take-off and not change them at the last possible moment except in the event of a unpredictable emergency. You don't want to be one radio failure away from an engine full of ash.

Re:OMG (4, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | about 5 months ago | (#47744477)

The real problem isn't the subglacial volcanoes, though. It's Hekla. They've been talking about this in the Icelandic press a bit, basically she usually gives an average of a couple dozen minutes advance warning, and then the ash plume reaches flight level in 5-20 minutes. Yet a dozen or so commercial passenger jets fly over her every day. There's one volcanologist recommending a permanent air traffic closure over her. The current situation really looks to be just asking or a serious tragedy at some point in the coming decades.

Re:OMG (1)

CBravo (35450) | about 5 months ago | (#47746051)

You can workaround this with procedures. Iceland could provide a radiostation which you must monitor being in the area near the vulcano. The radiostation could periodically/automatically say that everything is OK or that it is not. Obligatory notifications that you are entering and leaving the area are often used.

Re:OMG (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 5 months ago | (#47746351)

I suspect that, aside from the high costs (and even higher PR costs) of air crashes, the way most contemporary flights are scheduled makes maximum-granularity/low-predictability information less valuable than lower granularity and higher predictability.

As much as you wouldn't guess it from a trip to Baggage Claim, mass market air travel is very much a 'just in time' operation. Every minute an aircraft spends sitting on the ground and waiting for something is money lost. Every minute one spends circling around and waiting for a landing slot is even more money lost. Customers who miss connecting flights are either foregone sales, pissed off, or people that unexpectedly need to be crammed onto later flights. Airplanes themselves have connections to make. After doing one route, the plane is almost certainly scheduled for a deeply cursory cleaning and another destination.

In such an environment, you do want timely alerts of unexpected emergencies(since the cost of having to replace multiple glassed engines, or an entire airplane and passengers is really bad); but the value of unexpected or unreliable good news is much less obvious unless it can be slotted neatly into an overall schedule that would survive if the news is bad(which definitely could happen, if a landing slot can be arranged to suit, learning that a flight will be faster and burn less fuel than expected would be good news; but not necessarily news you could bet the scheduling of the flight's next leg on).

Re:OMG (1)

CBravo (35450) | about 5 months ago | (#47748497)

They want low costs period. However, I would expect them to take extra fuel with them to compensate for the eventuality that you would have to fly around the cloud itself (but only in condition orange, for example).

Re: OMG (1)

boaworm (180781) | about 5 months ago | (#47747175)

Hekla is harly a major issue. She has erupted 5 or so times in the last 60 years with small amounts of ash and lava. She has no glacier on top of her.

Re: OMG (1)

Rei (128717) | about 5 months ago | (#47765217)

Are you kidding? Hekla is the ashiest volcano in Europe. One study I saw estimated that a third of all of the volcanic ash in northern Europe came from Hekla alone. That's how she got the reputation in the middle ages of being the gateway to hell.

Re:OMG (4, Interesting)

Zocalo (252965) | about 5 months ago | (#47743895)

Probably just erring on the side of caution after Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. There are a whole number of ways the potential eruption, if it happens all, could go but most of them are probably not going to result in massive volumes of ash being pumped into the atmosphere; the most likely outcome being that the melting ice will cool the magma and prevent anything hazardous reaching the atmosphere. The main danger from Iceland's sub-glacial eruptions is actually the hlaup, or outflow of water from beneath the glacier in the form of a potentially devastating flash flood, which is why people have already been evacuated from the highlands. If there is an eruption, I suspect the priority with be evacuating whichever sections of the coastal lowlands are going to be in the path of any outflow (somewhere along the South coast, I suspect), rather than rerouting aircraft in the area.

Re:OMG (2)

tp1024 (2409684) | about 5 months ago | (#47744069)

This has very little to do with Eyjafjallajökull. They called the red alert when the harmonic tremor that was being measured reached levels that in all previous cases (like Eyja in 2010 and Grimsvötn in 2011) indicated an eruption in progress, namely, large amount of magma moving through rock. This usually only happens when there is magma moving out of the ground somewhere aka an eruption in progress.

The big problem is, there was no such thing. Yet tremor hasn't died down at all. [vedur.is] (This is from a recording station on Askja, which is a volcano a bit further away from the current action, but shows it just fine.)

There is a lot of magma on the move in the ground and by now there is very little reason left to believe it's just going to stay in the ground. Because it's just too darn much. An eruption on saturday would have been preferable to what we are seeing now.

Re:OMG (1)

Zocalo (252965) | about 5 months ago | (#47744199)

You missed my point, I think, I wasn't saying there was any connection with Eyjafjallajökull other than it might have prompted a slightly over cautious reaction in closing airspace before any actual airbourne dust became apparent. Sub-glacial volcanoes don't tend to throw huge volumes of ash into the atmosphere, so the main danger in the event of an eruption is far more likely to be flash floods than airbourne ash, although predicting the nature of a volcanic eruption is hardly an exact science so only time will tell. Of course, if Bardarbunga does manage to erupt with enough power to throw a sufficient volume of ash high enough into the atmosphere to cause chaos on a par with 2010 then an awful lot of ice is going to have to have been melted in the process, so there could still be a combination of physical damage from the hlaup and economic damage from disruption to air travel.

Re:OMG (1)

Rei (128717) | about 5 months ago | (#47744485)

She doesn't need to. The dike has now extended out beyond the glacier and is 60% of the way to Askja.

Re:OMG (1)

Applehu Akbar (2968043) | about 5 months ago | (#47744799)

Hey, buddy, we're discussing volcanology here. Let's keep the gender preference slurs out of this.

Re:OMG (2)

Rei (128717) | about 5 months ago | (#47745455)

Hey, dike is the English word! The Icelandic is "berggangur", which is like "rock conduit".

You sound stressed. Why don't you go relax and have a krap [lesterpickerphoto.com] ?

Re:OMG (4, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 5 months ago | (#47744449)

Yeah, it's morbidly fascinating to keep up with what's going on underground there. Whenever you run out of superlatives for how extreme the situation underground is, whatever crazy thing you were looking at before increases by half an order of magnitude ;) I thought it was crazy when they said the magma flow was 60 million cubic meters in 5 days. Now the estimate is 270 million cubic meters in 7 days. That's the flow rate of the freaking Hudson River at NYC, plowing straight through rock. And the seismometer readings are just freaking nuts [vedur.is] , an earthquake every minute. And now it's on its way to connecting Bárðarbunga with Askja, it's over halfway there. Two of Iceland's most devastating volcanoes. If Michael Bay was writing it, all that'd be left for him to do would be to have an intrusion also go in the other direction to link up with Katla through Veiðivötn and Laki, with a simultaneous Hekla eruption ;)

Re:OMG (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47746221)

if Michael Bay was writing it, all that'd be left for him to do would be to have an intrusion also go in the other direction to link up with Katla through Veiðivötn and Laki, with a simultaneous Hekla eruption ;)

considering what happened the last time Laki erupted that would be terrible, but at the same time it would be bloody awesome.....

Re:OMG (1)

Rei (128717) | about 5 months ago | (#47746445)

The only thing that would be more metal than that would be to have Skálmöld play a concert on the fissure while it erupts ;)

Re:OMG (3, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | about 5 months ago | (#47744417)

Iceland's volcanoes have indeed done that quite a few times. Eruptions connected with Laki in particular have been nasty, the 970 eruption was reported to have frozen the Tigris and Euphrates in central Iraq, and the 1783-1784 eruption froze the Mississippi at New Orleans and there was ice seen floating in the Gulf of Mexico. Which is even more impressive when you realize that the closer a volcano is to the poles, the harder it is to alter climate suchly; Iceland's volcanoes give off abnormally high levels of SO2 (also, really unfortunately from a local perspective, HF). Laki's 1783-1784 eruption, for example, gave off a whopping 120 million tonnes of SO2 and 6 million of HF, 6 times more SO2 and orders of magnitude more HF than Pinatubo, the largest eruption of the 20th century.

The problem with that, however, is that these effects are only short term. Meanwhile, volcanoes also give off CO2, which contributes to warming and last much longer. So they provide short-term cooling but long-term warming.

Somehow Bjork is involved (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47743887)

She one crazy bitch!

Re:Somehow Bjork is involved (2)

Rei (128717) | about 5 months ago | (#47744493)

Does it have something to do with this [youtube.com] , perhaps? ;)

worthless (1)

sir_eccles (1235902) | about 5 months ago | (#47743893)

it just says "volcano insurance" over and over again

is DHS aware of this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47744065)

This is exactly why foreigners are not to be trusted with being able to make decisions regarding global travel safety. This is all just Panikmacherei.. Until it is reported on the the DHS website http://www.dhs.gov/how-do-i/fi... [dhs.gov] then there is no reason for concern, and so far there is nothing. So there is noting to worry about at this time; so please everybody, go crawl back under your little rocks. This whole article is a waste otherwise useful internet space.

Re:is DHS aware of this? (3, Funny)

Rei (128717) | about 5 months ago | (#47744461)

Foreigners? It's our volcano. You're the foreigners.

FYI, it was our volcanologists who called the Met Office on their bad claim. Of course, they had every reason to think that there was an eruption, the earthquake and tremor activity has gotten so crazy it's higher than that seen during all but the most powerful eruptions in the area, and it's not even broken out of the ground yet. The amount of magma in motion there is just bonkers.

The best scenario at this point is a Krafla-style eruption - lava fountains slowly releasing the pressure over a decade, a nice "tourist eruption". The worst realistic scenario is a long-lasting, multiple vent fissure eruption stretching between Bárðarbunga and Askja, which would likely be one of our "Oh My God, Oh My God, We're All Going To Die!" eruptions that happen every 100-200 years on average.

Sir, are you absolutely sure? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47744153)

It does mean changing the bulb.

What'd I tell you (1)

Mister Liberty (769145) | about 5 months ago | (#47744667)

The misguided BBC and cowardous CNN were the basis for past week's reporting.

Re:What'd I tell you (1)

Rei (128717) | about 5 months ago | (#47746343)

No, the Icelandic Met office was, based on a very reasonable - but ultimately wrong - interpretation of the earthquake and surface tremor data.

Not Beta! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47745441)

I don't want this stupid beta.

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