Boom! The Eruption of Grímsvötn Volcano

May 30, 2011

PrintPrintEmailEmail
Your rating: None Average: 4.7 of 5 (3 votes)

Volcanoes such as Grímsvötn are nature’s wildcard. First there is the fiery eruption , followed by the ash cloud that endangers air travel. Then the unreported final act arrives – the cold stormy winters of volcano weather.

Grímsvötn erupts—blasting through the glacier.
Credit: freeonlinepicture.org

On May 21, the glaciers of Iceland ripped apart to reveal the angry crater of Mt. Grímsvötn. Molten lava and ice mingled in a mighty explosion. Plumes of ash and sulfur soared over 12 miles (20 km.) high in the air.

Europe winced. Volcanic ash is not soft little flakes of carbon – it is microscopic flakes of jagged glass surrounded by clouds of acid gasses. Planes that have entered these clouds have fallen like rocks. Last year’s eruption of the much smaller Eyjafjallajokull volcano stopped air traffic in Europe for 5 days.

Fortunately, Europe has updated it flight rules, so only a relatively few days of flight were lost in Iceland, Great Britain and Germany. The volcano continued to explode for five days and has finally settled back to grumpily rumbling in the glacier. As far as the news is concerned, the story is over and it is time to find something more exciting.

Grímsvötn ash cloud. Click to expand.
Source: Volcano Ash Advisory Centre—London

Here’s the unreported story. Grímsvötn was shooting out 2000 tons of ash, chemicals and steam every second! That’s a lot of pollution! Some of the material, especially the larger chunks of ash, fell back to the ground. But a lot of that stuff is still in the air. At 12 miles high, a lot of material entered the stratosphere, a quiet region of air where it will linger for over a year.

Sulfur and microscopic ash collect water and form clouds. For the next few months, the volcanic debris from Grímsvötn will be floating in the Arctic air mass. It will reflect back incoming sunlight and the polar air will grow colder.

For now we can ignore it. It’s almost summer and the polar air is far in the north. We will bar-b-que and swim and enjoy the golden warmth of the season.

Next fall, however, when the cold air begins to return, however, we will feel the extra nip in the air. The winter will be cold again and we will comment on how surprisingly stormy the weather is. We will feel that extra cold and some of us will recognize it for what it is – the last gift of a volcano in Iceland.

Related Articles


Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, blogger, writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac, and editor of The Browning Newsletter, has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.

More Articles:

Comments

remedy

By Susanr61

Have they ever came up with a way to prevent the ash from messing up the weather in case it were to cause catostropic conditions? Like spraying it with some kind of binding agent?

Re: remedy

By Evelyn Browning...

The amount of debris is just too massive. According to Dr. Ian Plimer, a noted scientist and climatologist in Australia, this eruption put up more CO2 than mankind has in the last 5 years combined. It's really huge.
 
There is a story that years ago the EPA complained to the government of Hawaii about the gas pollution from one of their volcanoes. On the last day of their session, the rather punch-drunk legislature passed an informal resolution -- if the EPA didn't like the volcano, they should go up the slope and put a cork in it.

NOAA said it was warmer last year 2010

By jerry.l.litton

I believe some of the cause and affect of this years weather and storms is the amount of warming NOAA stated they had measured around Earth last year, claiming a degree and half warming. Add the water and air chemistry introduction of the oil spill, and unknown compatibilities of disbursments may also be part of the cause. I never believed they capped the well but suspect it trickled out, is still trickling out and they shut down to operation. The camera on the sea bottom was a hoax, liquids don't mix like that where you can see through liquids of that viscosity, frictional releasing volume and pressure in a daark world even though lighted. It seems never losing sight of the well head is a little far fetched of a premise. I expect a lot of the last remaining volume of oil reserve in the Northern gulf of Mexico did indeed leak away, and I haven't heard of any estimates being stated. I suspect the surplus of lost oil material may have siponed off due to seafloor, temperture barriers or been carried by currents to the Sigsbee Deep a two-thousand foot deep valley just south of the oil leak sight. two thousands fathoms is about 2.3 miles deep so deeper than spill site about a mile or more. Maybe someone out there can investigate the mix of seawater, petroleum, temperture ranges and floational ability of the brine that would be produced and its suitability to be move horizontally on the bottom of the sea. You got to expect presures of several thousand pounds, tempertures of several hundreds of degrees and a water and oil mix chemistry would include some mystery in its behavior right at that well head release point.

ejection and reentry of space travel vechicles

By jerry.l.litton

Looks like space travel has some new possibilities in the effect of going out and reentering our atmosphere. Looks like a vechicle exiting, magnetic fields would be developed and would carry with it amounts of atmospheric material to the extremes of gravitional attraction and some outside of gravity hold. Frictional velocity of anything moving fast has propensity to produce static electricty, and would also load that vechicle with collected due to magnetic attraction static electricty an additional load of weight and size attracted to earth gravity. When that vechicle exits our atmosphere does it take with it to an expected distance into eempty space some of that atmosphere. On reentry does it not also splash some of the atmosphere material into outside areas where atmosphere is not usually found. If that be the case, is this not another cause for collection of radiant energy in more distant distances usually outside our atmosphere, also contributing to global warming due to the condition of presence of floational material aerosols in our outter layer. If this pull push process is expanding our atmosphere is outter atmosphere not filling with aerosol material that intercepts additional radiant exchanges in fact warming even more. Very much like projected volcanic ash except much higher.

atmosphere

By jerry.l.litton

Something puzzles me. There are millions of vechicles on the road and each has several tires that wear out. Except for sling-off tread sections, the tire wear material is not on the road side. Where is it? Has it been worn to microscopic sized particles and become airborn. If that is the case, by now why isn't it showing up in the landscape, floating on the water surface or discovered in home air filters? Where else could it be?

Volcanic activity/nuclear winter

By E Loomis

I was taught a long time ago that if we had a nuclear war that the resulting high dust and radioactive particles in the stratosphere would cause a markedly cooler climate because of the blocking of the sun's rays. Nuclear Winter, this is the same effect when these volcanos erupt violently and send millions of tons of microscopic debris in the atmosphere.
This year alone in the US we have had some of the worst storm activity in 100 years. The temperatures have cooled on average 10 degrees in coastal regions on the west coast and the northern jet stream is still lower later this year than in previous years. This is a direct result of last years Iceland volcano's eruption. Some of the biggest tornados in history are tearing up the Midwest region and other areas are baking.
Let us all think about that when someone says we need to stop driving and start riding bikes. I am not saying we have to use and polute, but be mindful of the fanatics. We just need to use common sense in these arguments.

Your nuclear winter

By Evelyn Browning...

Your nuclear winter comparison is excellent. That is how exactly how volcano weather works.
Last winter AND the winter before were volcano weather winters. In 2009 we had two large eruptions in the North Pacific - Mt. Redoubt in Alaska and Sarachev Peak in Russia. That is why the summer of 2009 was so wet and cool and the last two winters have been extreme. Last year's Iceland volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, was a problem for airplanes, but too small to enter the stratosphere. It crossed Europe and rained out in Russia and East Europe.
Unfortunately, this year's Grímsvötn was big, so it will create some problems, just as the impact of the 2009 volcanoes is beginning to fade.

The nuclear winter.

By E Loomis

I have some training in Nuclear physics and I know a lot comes down to common sense with these things, but is not our planet living and going to give natural corrections when things get out of balance? I always common back to one of Sir Isaac Newtons theories about
Energy and matter. Matter is neither created nor destroyed just altered in state, meaning, it might be
energy at one point in time but then can be changed to matter. As we use up matter and convert it to energy, at some time wont it go back to matter? Off subject for a bit. The earth in cooling off for a bit, will come back to some sort of balance and can not be getting hotter all the time,

volcanic activity

By jeltez42

Volcanic activity does impact our weather but the effects on the climate is limited to a few years or so. The bigger the eruption, the longer and more pronounced the cooling effect will be. Some climate scientists poo-pooh this and say it does not matter. These are typically the same ones that say solar cycles do not impact climate either, even when we know they do.

Here is a website with more information:
http://www.comet.ucar.edu/

You will need to create a userID and password but it is free and they are very good at not bothering you or selling your information. Once in, type volcano and climate. They also offer a whole host of weather/climate classes all for free in MetED.

volcanic activity

By mouse24

How do these volcanoes effect the climate in the long term. That may be a good article considering the global warming debate.

Volcanic activity

By Evelyn Browning...

The cooling effect only lasts for a few years. If an eruption is large enough to enter the stratosphere, the higher layer of the atmosphere, the debris typically lingers 2 - 3 years. The largest one in the last few centuries, Tambora, lingered up to 7 years.

Post new comment

Before posting, please review all comments. Due to the volume of questions, Almanac editors can respond only occasionally, as time allows. We also welcome tips from our wonderful Almanac community!

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.