Volcanic Eruption in Iceland Closes Airports

Vík í Mýrdal from above, Wikimedia Commons

After lying dormant for nearly 200 years, Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted over the weekend.Authorities declared a state of emergency, prompting the evacuation of around 500 people and the closure of the country's two main airports.

Shortly before midnight on March 20th, a one-kilometer (about 0.6 miles) fissure opened and the volcano spewed "red-hot molten lava high into the sky," according to UK's Times Online.

Due to the risk that volcanic ash could interfere with airplane visibility, three flights bound to Reykjavik from the United States were ordered to return to Boston and domestic flights were suspended, reported the BBC yesterday. Airport service has since resumed.

Watch a video of the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano erupting here:

The volcano sits near the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, just 75 miles southeast of the capital, Reykjavik. Many feared the volcano had erupted directly below the glacier, which could have caused "glacial melt, flooding and mudslides," according to The Times. The volcano spouted between Eyjafjallajökull and Myrdalsjoekull, a much larger glacier. Some fear the recent eruption will trigger a far worse rupture from Katla volcano, which sits beneath Myrdalsjoekull.

"That has to be on the table at the moment," said Dr. Dave McGarvie, senior lecturer at the Volcano Dynamics Group of the Open University to The Times. "Eyjafjallajökull has blown three times in the past thousand years... in 920AD, in 1612, and between 1821 and 1823. Each time it set off Katla."

The southern village of Vík í Mýrdal, which lies directly beneath the Myrdalsjoekull glacier, practices periodic volcano evacuation drills. Locals run uphill to the town's church, believed to be the only building that would survive a flash flood of glacial runoff.

Iceland is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the tectonic plate boundary separating the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate. Most of the Ridge lies underwater, but in Iceland the ridge extends above sea level.
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