The Bardarbunga volcano, the biggest of Iceland’s 30 or so volcanic systems, has been plagued by hundreds of tremors on a daily basis since mid-August, prompting fears the volcano could explode. Bardarbunga is Iceland’s second-highest peak and is located under Vatnajoekull, Europe’s largest glacier by volume. This means that the volcano system is under immense pressure and a mass movement of lava could result in a massive explosion. This brings to memory the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which melted through 200 meters of glacier ice and sent more than 200 million cubic meters of fine ash billowing almost 10 kilometers into the sky. As a result, several European countries were forced to ground or re-route thousands of flights for several days.
A full eruption, or more worryingly, an explosion of Bardarbunga could result in an even greater release of volcanic ash and debris than its 2010 counterpart. Among this debris are toxic and noxious gases such as carbon dioxide, hydrogen fluoride and sulfur dioxide. These gases can lead to acid rain, depletion of the ozone layer and even to genetic and physiological deformities of organisms exposed to them. As a result, the public health authorities of Iceland and other European countries are on high alert, monitoring closely the activity of Bardarbunga.
Large volcanic explosions also have the potential of creating tsunamis. A volcano caused an avalanche in Sicily 8,000 years ago that crashed into the Mediterranean Sea at 200 mph, triggering a devastating tsunami that spread across Europe. Scientists estimate that the tsunami waves were taller than a 10-story building. If Bardarbunga creates a massive movement of ice or rocks into the Mediterranean, a tsunami of comparable size can develop and affect coastal areas across the region. The Tsunami’s destruction would not be limited to the original strike. Areas affected develop stagnant water and create perfect environments for the proliferation of bacteria and fungi. As was the case with the 2004 Indian-Ocean Tsunami, the majority of the casualties occurred weeks later from rampant disease and lack of sanitation.
European public health authorities are well aware of these dangers. Although no one can prevent mother nature from unleashing its fury, we can be prepared to best deal with its wrath.