I went to Iceland in April to report on volcano monitoring during the Eyjafjallajökull eruption for Science Magazine.
That story, which appeared 23 April 2010, is here.
A pair of photos from my field trips appeared in my aunt’s Long Island newspapers (L&M Publications) the week of 26 April. See them here.
A first-person essay on the visit appeared in Global Talent, a Catalan science website, on 4 May, here.
Another feature, including two of my photographs, appeared in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine on 22 May, here.
A news item appeared in Discover Magazine in the September issue, here.
Selected personal photos from the trip are here.
This past spring’s eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland was a nightmare for travelers, but it gave scientists in Europe unprecedented access to a complex eruption right in their backyard. Old workhorses of volcanology–seismometers and GPS sensors, which detect movement of the ground–first picked up Eyjafjallajökull’s stirrings in early January. (For the record: The name is pronounced “AY-yah-fyah-lah-YOH-kuul.”) But when the volcano turned volatile in mid-April, scientists took to the skies, enlisting specially equipped planes to study the eruption and its effects on the overlying glacier. Synthetic aperture radar allowed the researchers to watch through thick steam and ash as heat released from the volcano melted the 650-foot-thick ice at its summit. The result was like pouring water into a pan of hot oil, making the eruption even more explosive. And geologist Björn Oddsson, a graduate researcher at the University of Iceland, reports that the temperature data gleaned from infrared monitors so far will help scientists calculate the volcano’s overall energy flow, which may yield insight into the dynamics that produced the eruption’s unusually fine, far-reaching ash plume.
Meanwhile, on the ground, earth scientists from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Italy are taking aim at the volcano with spectrometers, which measure the types and amounts of gases spewing from its mouth. Previous studies of other volcanoes have revealed a change in gas composition prior to an eruption that could serve as an early detection mechanism. But the comprehensive study of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, with “all of the data in one pot,” Oddsson says, will give scientists an unprecedented opportunity to improve their understanding of how volcanoes work and apply it to other sites.
See this news item online [html] or as it appeared in Discover Magazine [pdf].
The propeller-driven six-seater churns straight toward the brown plume over Eyjafjallajökull, unlike other aircraft taking off from Reykjavík airport. Inside, accompanied by a seasoned pilot, sits Björn Oddsson, a graduate student at the University of Iceland, entrusted with an infrared sensor derived from military bombing systems. But the only bombs Oddsson talks about are the lava boulders erupting from the volcano 80 miles away.
As they approach the volcano Oddsson opens the window so that the infrared sensor can function properly. A frigid wind whips in, chilling the cabin to near-Arctic temperatures, but Oddsson doesn’t mind; he is focused on calibrating the temperature scale on the device. The sensor, which looks like a video camera, is still relatively new and he’s eager to get it right. His supervisors expect him to report his findings at a briefing the next afternoon, April 19, the sixth day of the present eruption.
Many families along Iceland’s fertile southern coast can spin a good yarn about a close escape from an exploding volcano. Take Kristín Vogförð’s grandfather, who was tending sheep on the eastern slopes of Katla when it erupted in 1918, melting glacial ice and violently flooding the rivers and fields below. According to an account by the geophysicist from the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO), he and the other shepherds rode their tough Icelandic horses through icy waters to safety. Unfortunately, his sheep were not so lucky.
In April, I joined a group of Icelandic volcano experts on a field trip to study rocks, gases and river runoff from Eyjafjallajökull. I witnessed modern escapes and came away impressed by how much Iceland’s scientists are doing to learn all they can from the latest eruptions, which have already begun to take a large toll on the small country’s tourism and agriculture industries.
Read the rest of my essay for Global Talent, a Catalan science service, in English [html] [pdf], Spanish [html] [pdf], or Catalan [html] [pdf].