THE VINE APRIL 19, 2010
Setting aside all the questions about air travel and global cooling, have there been any other environmental consequences from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull? As best I can tell from trawling around various news sources, the effects have actually been pretty mild—though they could get a lot worse if Eyjafjallajökull's sister volcano Katla erupted (the two have a storied history of blowing up one after the other). We've only had to deal with:
--A plume of rock and ash extending 6.8 miles into the sky (at its peak, the volcano was pumping out an impressive 750 tons of ash per minute), though it's settled back down to a mere 1.2 miles recently.
--The ash cloud is now thought to be unlikely to reach North America. That's good, because in theory it could affect weather patterns there, though the eruption would have to get much worse. When Katla blew in the 1700s, the United States suffered through a record cold winter—with the Mississippi freezing just north of New Orleans.
--Adverse health effects from the air pollution don’t appear to be a worry, though, again, if the eruption became much worse you could have a situation similar to that in Hawaii near the Kiluaea volcano, where residents suffer sore throats, asthma, chronic coughs…
--Cows and sheep in the area risk fluoride poisoning if they inhale or breathe in too much of the ash (parts of Iceland south of the volcano are caked with a solid four inches), though Iceland's farmers seem to be doing a good job of bringing their herds indoors.
So basically, if you bracket aside the incredibly disruptive effects on air travel, this eruption has been nothing like the Laki volcano in 1783, which killed half of Iceland's livestock and a quarter of the population, sent ash all over Europe and caused widespread respiratory disease, and altered global weather patterns so significantly that there was record snow in New Jersey and drought in Egypt. Let’s hope it stays that way.
(Flickr photo credit: Vignir Már)