Belching volcano

Second Edit

When Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted last week, its reverberations were felt across the world, underlining the fact that disasters, natural and human-made, even those in remote parts of the globe, impact lives and economies thousands of miles away. The eruption threw up thousands of tonnes of mineral ash into the air, throwing a thick, dark shroud over vast parts of Europe. It grounded air traffic for almost a week and brought Europe to a standstill. The global disruption of flights, described the worst since 9/11, is expected to cost the aviation industry $1.7 billion. With the cloud lifting somewhat, planes in Europe are slowly taking to the skies again. While the worst of the crisis seems over, another could be brewing. Iceland has several seething volcanoes and Eyjafjallajokull’s eruption could prompt an eruption of its larger neighbour, Katla, which is known to have erupted three times so far. Will Katla copy its belching neighbour now, hurling the troubled aviation industry into turbulent weather?

Although this eruption wasn’t a major one on the Volcanic Explosivity Index, its impact is instructive. In our globalised world it is not the magnitude of a disaster alone that is important but where and when it happens and importantly, how we respond to it. This volcano has erupted in the past but its impact was rarely felt outside Iceland. Today, with air travel so common, Eyjafjallajokull’s eruption left much of the world shaking. Markets which rely on same-day deliveries of products from exporters on the other side of the globe have been hit badly.

The immediate environmental consequences of this eruption are deadly. Plant species in northern Europe will have to fight to survive for some months. However, it appears that the cloud the volcano sent out last week has a silver lining. Its effects on the atmosphere and climate are unlikely to linger, say climate experts. Apparently, the earth is naturally equipped to deal with gas emissions from volcanoes. Besides, as the flights were grounded it meant that carbon dioxide vomited into the air by planes fell. The amount of carbon dioxide the volcano let out last week was far less. Eyjafjallajokull’s dramatic eruption then, while devastating for the aviation industry was not that bad after all for climate and environment in the long run.

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