Grímsvötn eruption and the importance of research

This perspective on the Grímsvötn eruption and volcanic activity, ash transport and ash detection comes from Dr Mike Burton. Dr Burton is a Senior Researcher at the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Pisa, Italy. His research includes utilising novel gas and video imaging techniques to better understand volcanic processes. At the EGU General Assembly 2011, he convened GMPV5 Monitoring and observations of active volcanoes using in-situ and remote sensing techniques along with Thomas Staudacher , Jurgen Neuberg , Hugo Delgado Granados, and Alessandro Bonaccorso.”

Once more with feeling

Just a little more than a year after the eruption of Eyjafalla another Icelandic volcano, Grímsvötn, is injecting volcanic ash and gas high into the atmosphere, disrupting air traffic over Europe. This time the eruption has been much more intense, with an eruption column reaching up to 20 km in the initial stages of the activity. Fortunately the eruption has swiftly waned, and at the time of writing eruptive activity has reduced greatly. Nevertheless, the volcanic ash already injected into the upper troposphere will continue to circulate for several days before it becomes so dilute that it no longer poses a risk to aviation, and we see that airports in northern Europe have had to close as air traffic restrictions are put in place. Such events remind us of the enormous importance that European level research in volcanic activity, ash transport and ash detection has for improving our ability to both understand and react to rapidly changing events.

Volcanic eruptions, while challenging to predict, are produced from well-known areas, particularly in Iceland where frequent eruptions have been extremely well-documented and well-observed for many years. This allows statistical analysis of the frequency of such events and preparation for their eventuality. Unfortunately, while scientists from many nations have lobbied for increased resources to deal with this issue, governments have been slow to act, but the recent eruptions on Iceland and their consequent impact on the European economy through disruption to air traffic has produced an unprecedented focus on this issue. This focus was exemplified at the recent EGU General Assembly in Vienna in April where a series of well-attended sessions focussed on the science of the 2010 eruption, modelling of the ash dispersal and analysis of satellite and lidar measurements of ash. It is clear that further research is a fundamental priority for Europe in order to produce improving responses to the inevitable eruptions which will occur in the future, not just from Iceland, but also from Italy and potentially the Azores and Canary Islands as well.

Bárbara Ferreira was the Media and Communications Manager of the European Geosciences Union from 2011 to 2019. Bárbara has also worked as a science writer specialising in astrophysics and space sciences, producing articles for the European Space Agency and others on a freelance basis. She has a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Cambridge.

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