Monday, 1 October 2018

Is Katla Volcano Really About To Erupt?

You’ve most likely seen the outlandish headlines recently. “Icelandic giant is about to erupt!" "Scientists warn huge Iceland volcano is about to blow!" “It will dwarf the 2010 ash cloud!” etc. With multiple news outlets, mainly British publications and tabloids, screaming that the sky is falling, many have been left scratching their heads (and possibly trembling in a corner) about what exactly is happening with Katla volcano. While the newspapers would have you believe we're about to experience Pompeii 2.0, I say not so fast. Let's do a little bit of digging to see if indeed Katla volcano is about to erupt and we’re all doomed to be devoured into a suffocating cloud of brimstone, hellfire, smoke, and ash.

Newspapers are saying Katla will be worse than Eyjafjallajökull. Is it true?

Katla’s History


Of course, none of this comes from completely out of the blue. We’ll concede that Katla is one of the more volatile volcanoes in Iceland. In the island's 1,000+ year history, the active volcano has erupted approximately twice per century at the rate of once every 40 to 80 years. It caused an unusually large amount of devastation and damage in the late 1700s when the explosions and after effects of starvation, the death of livestock, and poor air quality wiped out nearly a quarter of the country's population.

The enormous mountain’s last eruption was in 1918, which means we're decades overdue for another volcanic event. Katla is also located in southwest Iceland close to Eyjafjallajökull. The difficult to pronounce mountain beneath a glacier is the same infamous volcano that wreaked havoc in 2010. Its massive ash cloud caused European airspace to be shut down for nearly a week and displaced 10 million travelers.

Where The False Rumors Began


It all started innocently enough. A University of Leeds scientist and volcanologist, Evgenia Ilyinskaya, recently published a study about CO2. The scientific study stated that Katla was a globally a significant source of the greenhouse gas atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This is important as CO2 is one of the main contributing factors to climate change and global warming. However, nowhere in the study did it say anything about eruptions or magma "building up beneath the surface of the volcano."

Graph showing seismic activity precluding volcano eruption

Additionally, Ilyinskaya clarified on her Facebook page and on Twitter that during the 20-minute interview with a journalist, she actually said the opposite of what is being quoted. She expressed her frustration that the publications twisted her words and did not practice responsible journalism. Many of these tabloids, such as The Daily Express, The Sun, and the Evening Standard, have latched on to the untrue story as a way to terrify their readers, sell newspapers and get clicks for their website. Their tendency to sensationalize potentially catastrophic geographical events is something they are quite known for. Even the usually more serious and reliable Sunday Times has been swept up into the journalistic hysteria.

What Was Really Said About Katla


We'll go straight to the horse's mouth and quote the lead author of the study to find out exactly what she said. Here's what she has posted on social media regarding the frenzy around the results of her research:

"I said explicitly that we are in no position to say whether or not Katla volcano is ready to erupt, and that air traffic disruption in case of an eruption is unlikely to be as serious as in 2010".

She tweeted that it was “incredibly disappointing to see that @thesundaytimes have gone down the route of trashy tabloids. This article misinforms their readers and undermines me as a scientist and a specialist in my field. Shameful job".

Evgenia Ilyinskaya had to clarify on social media what she really said

Fortunately, we now live in the age of social media, where people can clarify and correct things that are misconstrued, misrepresented, or taken out of context. This mini checks-and-balance can help keep false stories from gaining too much credibility.

Is Katla Volcano Really About To Erupt?


So it looks like for the time being, Katla is not going to erupt after all and there is no imminent danger. Despite the sensationalism that has popped up surrounding new findings about the volcano, we don't have any new evidence to suggest that we are in any danger. That being said, it has been a hundred years since the volcanic mountain’s last eruption. And because it has consistently erupted every 40 to 80 years over the last thousand years, we can never be too sure. Another factor to consider is that most of the time, volcanoes don't just erupt out of nowhere. They usually start rumbling weeks if not months in advance of a volcanic event. Seismologists are continually monitoring their activities, so hopefully there won't be any surprises when you visit.

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