A volcano expected to erupt at any time in recent weeks in Iceland has finally erupted, allowing lava to shoot into the air from along a long fissure or crack that opened up in the Reykjanes peninsula, about 1.8 miles north of the town of Grindavik. Experts monitoring the eruption say it isn’t as severe as it was when it started, adding that it is unlikely there will be any ash threats to aviation over Iceland as was the case in other volcanic eruptions here. However, experts add that there is a threat of toxic gasses from the eruption moving into populated areas soon.
According to the Icelandic Met Office, the Iceland equivalent to the U.S. National Weather Service and USGS, the eruption began at 10:17 pm local time last night following an earthquake swarm that started around 9:00 pm. According to the Icelandic Met Office, the size of the volcanic eruption at Sundhnúksgígar is diminishing. The lava flow is estimated to be about 1/4 of what it was at the beginning of the eruption and roughly a third of the original fissure is currently active.
Because of the type of eruption and type of volcano this eruption is occurring from, there is no threat of volcanic ash high into the atmosphere as was the case in other volcanic eruptions in recent years. A large eruption in 2010 did just that, forcing airlines to suspend air travel between the U.S. and Europe for some time.
While ash isn’t a concern, volcanic gas is. According the the Icelandic Met Office, fumes from the volcano could make its way into the city of Reykjavik by Wednesday morning. The most common gas from this volcano is sulfur dioxide.
Sulfur dioxide affects human health when it is breathed in. It irritates the nose, throat, and airways to cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or a tight feeling around the chest. The effects of sulfur dioxide are felt very quickly and most people would feel the worst symptoms in 10 or 15 minutes after breathing it in. Those most at risk of developing problems if they are exposed to sulfur dioxide are people with asthma or similar conditions. Extreme concentrations of sulfur dioxide can be deadly if inhaled. When combined with other substances additional hazards can be created; as an example, rain falling through a sulfur dioxide plume could produce an acid rainfall. Sulfur dioxide is invisible to the human eye, but when it reacts with other gases, aerosol particles can form to cause haze, and according to NASA in extreme widespread events, climate cooling.