One of Iceland’s largest volcanoes is about to cause headaches for travelers while forcing local inhabitants to flee their homes. Bardarbunga (Bárðarbunga in Icelandic) has caused more than 3,000 earthquakes since Saturday, the strongest magnitude being 4.5 on the Richter scale, leading scientists to believe that an eruption is imminent. Evacuations from the surrounding area commenced on Tuesday. Bardarbunga lays beneath the largest glacier in Iceland, so floods from the melted ice are also on the list of fears from the forthcoming destruction. Multiple commercial flights in and out of Iceland have been cancelled with many more cancellations coming.
When Bardarbunga blows – because it seems to be a matter of when, not if – it will be the third time in the last four years that one of Iceland’s volcanoes disrupted air travel. The most notable eruption occurred in 2010 when Eyjafjallajökull spewed ash six miles high and all over Europe, disrupting the travel plans of roughly 10 million travelers for almost a month. Another eruption from Grimsvotn occurred a year later, which happened to be the larger of the two eruptions, causing around 900 flight cancellations over the course of only a few days throughout northern Europe.
Volcanic ash is very dense; flying an aircraft through a plume is ill-advised. There are two recorded flights that flew through the ash of an erupting volcano; neither of them went very well. No one died in either flight, but the dense, microscopic ash filled every nook and cranny of each aircraft, which caused engines and instruments to fail. Cruising miles above the ground, one of the 747’s cockpit even filled with ash as the pilots tried to fly above and out of the plume. The hot ash is able to melt onto the windows and inside jet engines, causing permanent damage to the airplane.
If you are concerned that Bardarbunga will affect your travel plans, live updates are available from the Icelandic Met Office.