A volcanic eruption of what is historically Iceland’s most active volcano has forced the closure of the nation’s airports and threatens European airspace. The Grimsvotn volcano, which lies under Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull, sent smoke, ash and steam 12 miles into the atmosphere.
The eruption began late Saturday night local time started underneath the ice of the glacier and soon burst through the surface. The event marks the first eruption of Grimsvotn since 2004.
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Iceland acted quickly, shutting down air traffic to and from the nation’s largest airport in Keflavik for Sunday. Isavia, the company that operates airports and navigation in Iceland, imposed a no-fly zone extended 120 nautical miles from the airport.
Isavia said, “A danger area has been established for all instrument flying that includes the upper approach airspace for the Keflavik and Reykjavik international airports.”
No immediate impact across a wider area of Europe has been realized as yet. Eurocontrol said the ash plume is drifting to the northeast and transatlantic and European flights are unaffected.
However, some flights across Scandinavia have been delayed. Norwegian airport operator Avinor said, “We expect the ash cloud to enter Norwegian airspace over the course of the night.”
The Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland said in a statement, ““The height of the initial plume in the present eruption, 17 kilometers, is much higher than in a preceding eruption at Grimsvotn in 2004. The present plume is also higher than recorded in the Eyjafjallajokull eruption in Iceland last year.”
Experts do not foresee as wide ranging of an impact from Grimsvotn as from the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull last year. The April 2010 eruption of that volcano brought air travel across Europe to a halt and resulted in millions of dollars in economic losses.
According to the Global Volcanism Program, Grimsvotn is Iceland’s most frequently active volcano. Its last eruption on November 1, 2004 resulted in flights being diverted but no widespread impact to aviation was seen.
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