To me, like most Icelanders, Eyjafjallajökull has just been a beautiful glacier, until it started erupting a week ago. No-one could have imagined it could cause so much harm. Let's look back at how the eruption has progressed in the last week.
The call to evacuate came around 4 am on Wednesday, April 14th. Seismic readings showed disturbances that were believed to be the beginning of a new eruption, this time beneath the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, posing a danger of flooding. The glacier was covered with clouds so there was no way to confirm that an eruption had started until the Coast Guard plane flew over the area with scientists on Wednesday morning. The plume was only visible from planes flying overhead. At first it was pure white water vapor while the magma melted it’s its way through the glacial cap, but later it turned a gray and black color as ash started spurting into the air.
Wednesday two large floods rushed down the glacier, the smaller one south and the larger one north into the river Markarfljót. Large gaps were carved out of the main coastal ring highway to alleviate pressure on the new bridge across the river. The bridge was saved and withstood two subsequent floods as well. The road connection is being restored, but limited traffic has been allowed to cross the old bridge across the river, such as milk trucks collecting milk from the farms east of the river.
Thursday the ash started to spread east closing Europe’s main airports in one country after another. The towns of Vík and Kirkjubæjarklaustur east of the glaciers experienced substantial ash fall. On Saturday the wind direction changed sweeping the cloud of ash south of the glacier. The area was engulfed in the cloud, turning day into night. The world turned black with the ash coming down like heavy snowfall. When it stopped it was measured in inches. Sunday the winds turned again, blowing the ash east and the farmers south of the glacier had a chance to rescue horses that had been outside during the ash fall and assess the damage. The horses were in surprisingly good shape but naturally a bit shook up by the ordeal. The ash even found its way into the barns turning white sheep a dark gray color. Rain and snow turned the ash into a wet slush that’s now hardened into a cement-like mass. It’s unlikely there will be any hay harvested in the area this summer.
But with the latest assessment of the volcano comes a glimmer of hope. The intensity of the eruption has decreased. The ash is building up around the crater forming sort of an insulation between the ice and the magma. This means there's less water coming into contact with the hot magma, which is what’s causing all this ash to form. That could potentially mean less ash in the coming days. There’s a steady flow of water down the glacier so the danger of floods seems to have passed as well. The glow of magma spurting into the air is now visible. If this turns into a lava eruption, life will improve significantly for those living in the glacier’s shadow.
However, the question still remains: Will all this activity wake Katla from her slumber? An eruption there could potentially be a hundred times more powerful. What kind of disasters that will bring is hard to fathom considering the major mess this lesser eruption has caused. Eyjafjallajökull has erupted three times in historic times and every single time Katla has followed. It's impossible to tell what will happen now, but so far Katla shows now signs of stirring. Let's just hope she'll sleep on.
Here are a few links to news footage from the eruption:
Four clips in English from MSNBC:
and a clip from the first "tourist" eruption:
the first eruption
News footage form RUV public TV channel. It's in Icelandic but the videos speak for themselves:
Wednesday: The flood
Saturday: Day becomes night
Life in the dark
Sunday: An ash-covered world
The plume of smoke and ash
Magma visible in the crater
I've followed the eruption's progress here:
I will post further updates on a second eruptions updates thead with this article.