In 2010 the volcano with a name not even news readers could pronounce erupted causing the highest level of air travel disruption since the Second World War. Last month marked the two year anniversary of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption which cost airlines 150 million Euros a day for six days. But despite the severity of the event no one seems concerned that it could happen again. The eruption seems to have gone down in history as just that –history.
However, alarmingly, there are signs of unusual activity beneath neighbouring Katla, a larger and potentially more devastating volcano. This activity could be an indication of an imminent eruption. Looking through the history of eruptions it can be seen that over 20 eruptions of Katla have occurred with intervals of 13-95 years. The last one was in 1918 – 94 years ago. Katla is overdue. To make matters worse, the longer pressure builds up, the more catastrophic an eruption can be.
Named after an evil troll, Katla has a larger magma chamber than Eyjafjallajökull. The 1918 eruption continued for more than a month and turned day into night, starved crops of sunlight, killed livestock and melted some of the ice sheet covering its crater sending floods wider than the Amazon into the surrounding farmland. The previous eruption had been in 1860, an interval of just 58 years. So with 94 years since an eruption and counting, the next event will probably be even more devastating.
You would think then that high-level contingency planning across Europe would be under way. Especially considering that after the 1918 eruption residents stated that they only had 20 minutes between the eruption starting and raging flood waters trying to engulf their homes. But this is not happening.
After the Eyjafjallajokul eruption, Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson warned European officials that they should be prepared for future eruptions. He advised the aviation industry to develop engines that are less sensitive to ash. This idea has not even got off the ground. Furthermore, since decisions on closing air space rest with national regulators the aviation industry says there is little that airlines can do to prepare for a future ash cloud. As well as the catastrophic impacts on the local residents, the Europe-wide travel chaos will once again ensue at the next eruption.