Iceland’s volcano watch continues. For several weeks, thousands of small earthquakes have pointed to an increasingly likely eruption of Fagradalsfjall volcano located near Grindavík, a fishing town located just 16 miles from Keflavík airport, the country’s largest airport and the main hub for international flights.
On Monday, the Icelandic Meteorological Office expanded the “danger zone” due to “clear signs of landris”—or ground uplift caused by rising magma—in Svartsengi, a barren landscape made up of fissures, cones and volcanic craters that is home to a geothermal power plant whose excess water is used to fill the renowned Blue Lagoon, the country’s top tourist attraction.
AccuWeather meteorologists have warned of the potential for impacts to air travel “over the coming weeks,” while noting that pinpointing the size and exact location of the affected air space will depend on timing of the “imminent” eruption.
“If the volcano were to erupt on Tuesday into Wednesday, the upper-level winds across Iceland would tend to direct any ash to the east toward Scandinavia or even north of Scandinavia,” says Jonathan Porter, AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist.
“However, later in the week, there will be big changes to the upper-level wind pattern across Iceland and Europe,” says Porter. “Thursday into Friday, a substantial dip in the jet stream will develop across parts of Europe, reconfiguring the upper-level winds, which can direct any lofted ash toward parts of northern and central Europe. Into the weekend, any ash present well above the ground could be directed further west across Europe.”
Such a scenario has the potential to impact the global economy. In 2010, the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano led to 100,000 flight cancellations over several weeks, affecting 7 million passengers and shaving $4.7 billion off worldwide GDP, according to an analysis by Oxford Economics. That figure included $1.7 billion in revenue losses for the airline industry.
The timing of a potential eruption will also impact the air quality in Reykjavik, located 31 miles northwest from the volcano. “Should an eruption occur early in the week, reduced air quality could even be an issue near the capital city of Reykjavik as the near-ground winds will be from the south which can direct polluted air into parts of the Reykjavik area,” says Porter. “Later in the week, the near-ground winds will change direction which would lower the risk for reduced air quality in the capital.”
Meanwhile, the country’s tourism authority is calling for calm. “It is impossible to predict whether a volcanic eruption will break out, or exactly when or where in the vicinity of Grindavík a potential eruption might break out,” according to the Visit Iceland website. “It is important to note that there are currently 46 volcanoes actively erupting around the world, without any major disruption to international air traffic.”
Meanwhile, the nation’s flagship airline, Iceland Air, says the ongoing seismic activity in the Southwest region of Iceland “has not affected” flights to or from Iceland. “We are in close contact with Icelandic authorities and are monitoring the situation closely,” per the carrier’s travel alert.