Iceland's Met Office on Monday raised its risk level to the aviation industry for an eruption at its Bardarbunga volcano to orange, which is the fourth level on a five-grade scale.The alert has been prompted by an 'earthquake swarm' in the area. While there's no sign of an imminent eruption, the local authorities are concerned enough to have closed roads in the area as a precaution against floods caused by melting of the Vatnajokull glacier.
An explosive eruption could produce an ash cloud similar to the one that grounded European aircraft in 2010 (regular readers may remember the saga of the nephew stranded in Sicily after a field trip to study a resolutely uncooperative Mount Etna - should have gone to Iceland!).
It was a massive eruption in the Vatnajokull area that led to catastrophic famine in Iceland in the 1780s and arguably contributed to the French revolution by causing crop failures in France; while the Icelanders are now far better equipped to survive, the impact of a similar event on the aviation industry today would have far-reaching economic consequences.
It's a salutary reminder that Nature has plenty of surprises up her sleeve for those who rely too heavily on modern technology. Still, at least it appears that the recent rumours circulating of an imminent Yellowstone supervolcano eruption - also based on seismic activity - have been dismissed as a hoax.
We predicted a few months ago that, with the summer dearth of asteroid close approaches and nothing scoring more than 0 on the Torino Scale, apocaholics would be looking elsewhere for thrills 'so look out in the coming months for dire predictions of mega-tsunami, solar flares and the release of methane clathrates'.
Sure enough, in recent weeks we have been treated to
Killer solar superstorm could destroy Earth at ANY MOMENT, scientists warn (Express)along with the interestingly forthright
'We're f*****': Climate change will be catastrophic for mankind after study reveals methane leaking from the Arctic Ocean, scientist warns (Daily Mail)and, although no mega-tsunami scares have emerged recently, the media have been making up for it with exciting headlines about the 'killer asteroid headed straight for us' which actually translates as 1950 DA's 1-in-300 chance of impact eight centuries hence.
The prospect of a potential volcanic eruption in the near future must therefore have been greeted with delight in many newsrooms, however grimly it may be viewed by those potentially on the receiving end. In short, disaster sells.
Meanwhile, in the Tavern, it's been a long time since we toasted a passing space rock and the next one isn't due until mid-September.
Perhaps we should start drinking to volcanoes as well.
Update: The Cynical Tendency takes a more intellectual approach and examines the political implications of a serious eruption.