April 21, 2010

Delays, New Eruption Threats Could Emerge From Iceland

As airports across Europe reopened Tuesday and the long process of returning thousands of stranded passengers to their homes began, the ongoing fallout of recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland delayed the delivery of polio vaccine to Africa and caused concern that another, more dangerous eruption could soon occur at another nearby volcano.

Last Wednesday, the volcano located beneath the Eyjafjallajokull glacier began erupting, spewing ash that covered local farmland, shot as high as 30,000 feet into the air, and spread across the UK and continental Europe. That cloud of ash forced airports in England, Ireland, France, Germany, and several other countries to close, stranding tens of thousands of travelers on the ground.

However, according to an April 20 article by Carlo Piovano of the Associated Press (AP), "Scientists fear tremors at the Eyjafjallajokull volcano could trigger an even more dangerous eruption at the nearby Katla volcano--creating a worst-case scenario for the airline industry and travelers around the globe."

"A Katla eruption would be 10 times stronger and shoot higher and larger plumes of ash into the air than its smaller neighbor," Piovano added. "The two volcanos are side by side in southern Iceland, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) apart and thought to be connected by a network of magma channels"¦ Katla, however, is buried under ice 550 yards (500 meters) thick," meaning that it would have to burn through twice as much ice as the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

No seismic activity was detected at the location on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano began spewing less ash and began producing lava, and Bryndis Brandsdottir of the University of Iceland told the AFP the strength of the eruption had "diminished markedly" and that the ash column is less than half its original height.

However, Reuters is reporting that at least 15 million polio vaccine doses earmarked for West Africa are currently trapped at German and French airports. Martin Dawes, regional chief of communications for the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) in West and Central Africa, told the news agency that he hoped the vaccines would be "treated as priority to transport."

"This is obviously causing difficulties" in the organization's campaign to immunize 85 million children under five years of age in West and Central Africa, he said. That campaign is currently scheduled to begin on April 24, but as Dawes notes, "these vaccines have to be kept cool and if this situation lasts longer, they would have to be sent back to manufacturers to ensure that they are preserved."


Image Caption: The Katla volcano is located underneath the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in Iceland. The last major eruption occurred in 1918, although there may have been a small eruption that did not break the ice cover in 1955. Courtesy Wikipedia