Escaping floodwaters could cause major damage in Iceland, says RMS

RMS issued the following update on the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

Activity at the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic system in Iceland has generated glacial floodwaters and ejected significant quantities of ash into the atmosphere. While there have been no reports of property damage or casualties in Iceland, there has, however, been considerable disruption to air transport networks across northwest Europe.

According to the Icelandic Institute of Earth Science, the volcanic eruption began around midnight local time on Wednesday, April 14 beneath the Eyjafjallajökull glacier – the 6th largest glacier in the country –in southern Iceland, around 100 miles (160 km) east-southeast of the capital, Reykjavik. The Institute has reported that lava flows are not expected to be of significance during this eruption, however the eruption plume has been considerable, while the resulting melt water has penetrated its way to the central crater beneath the glacier. This eruption - of Global Volcanism Program Volcano number 1702-02 - is the latest in a series of eruptions of this system that began on Saturday March, 20.

Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has warned that escaping floodwaters will likely see river levels rise and potentially cause damage. According to initial media reports, these flood waters have exceeded 3m (6 ft) in height in places. Officials have begun evacuations in the immediate region fearing a jokulhlaup (a glacial outburst flood).

The most significant impact from this event appears to be on the northwest European air travel. Clouds of volcanic ash, drifting across from Iceland have caused disruption to European flights with airport and airspace closures resulting in delayed and cancelled flights. Norway’s aviation authority ANIVOR closed the northern half of the country’s airspace late Wednesday evening. In the UK, the air traffic control provider NATS as of 09:00 UTC Thursday, 15 April has restricting flights in northern Scotland and warned that flight-restriction zones could expand south. Flights have been grounded across London and Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and London City airports will all be closed from 12:30 UTC. British Airways has cancelled all domestic services on Thursday. Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports have been shut; severe disruptions to services reported to flights in and out of Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham airports, with the latter reporting 90% of flights have been cancelled; problems have also been reported at East Midlands, Leeds Bradford, Cardiff and Bristol airports.

The United States Federal Aviation Administration has reported delays in flights leaving the US due to the volcanic ash, with flights that were due to cross Icelandic airspace grounded.