The small European island country of Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is a very geologically active location because it sits right along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The island is composed mostly of basalt and has a lot of volcano activity. There is also a lot of geothermal power and hydroelectricity available.
Eyjafjallajökull is one of Iceland’s smallest ice caps that covers the caldera of a volcano. It has erupted relatively frequently since the last Ice Age. In addition, eruptions of this location have often times triggered the eruptions of its larger neighbor, Katla. Seismic activity at Eyjafjallajökull began in late 2009 and led to the first eruption phase that began in March 2010. This first phase was ejecting olivine basaltic andesite lava several hundred meters into the air.
The intensity of the eruptions severely increased on April 14, 2010. Fine, glass-rich ash was being thrown up to 5 miles into the atmosphere. The eruption was powerful, but mostly made headlines outside of the science world because of its large impact on air travel. Almost all of Europe’s air space was shut down from April 15-20. This was said to be the highest level of air travel disruption since World War II. There are several reasons why this effected air travel so severely. First, the volcano is located directly below the jet stream. Consequently, ash was being thrown directly into the south-easterly moving jet stream. The debris was headed straight for mainland Europe and some of the busiest airspace in the world.
The reason why this was such a serious situation is because volcanic ash is a major hazard to air crafts. Smoke and ash affects the visibility for pilots. Also, microscopic debris in the ash can melt in the turbine engines and cause them to shut down. At the time, I was living in London. I studied abroad there from January to late April of 2010. The eruptions of this volcano made constant headlines all over the BBC and news stands. As my semester was coming to an end, it directly effected me and my flights back to America. My school was in a panic on what they would have to do if their hundreds of study abroad students could not make it back home. It had an even more intense impact on some friends of mine I made over there. For example, two of my friends were backpacking in Italy when the air travel shut down. This caused means of transportation like trains to dramatically increase in price. Out of desperation with little money, they had no other choice but to hitchhike across Europe (a very sketchy idea) to get from Italy to northern France. From there, they were able to catch a ferry across the channel back to England. Tons of people were stranded in foreign countries and airports during these very long days of no planes in the sky. Luckily, my flight back to America, a mere days after the air space reopened, was not altered. However, it was a bit nerve-wracking flying home (right over Iceland!) given the situation.
By the 21st of May, the eruptions subsided. In October 2010, the eruption was stated to be officially over. Thankfully, there were no reported deaths related to these eruptions. More information on this interesting news story can be found at this link: