The British government has recently updated its National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies, adding volcanoes from Iceland to its guidelines in terms of the risk they pose to Britain, and what steps the government has taken to prepare for an eruption.
The eruptions of Fimmvörðuháls and Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 are still fresh in the memories of many Europeans, as a large volcanic ash cloud from the latter shut down air traffic across Europe for several days. The British government has apparently taken something away from the experience, as the National Risk Register has been updated to include Icelandic volcanoes.
In the same guidelines that cover flooding, influenza and severe space weather, volcanoes are said to “have significant consequences in the UK, including disruptions to aviation and, depending on the volume of gases emitted, significant public health and environmental impacts.”
As detailed in the report, “If periods of intense volcanic activity … coincide with unfavourable weather conditions they can result in significant ash incursions over the UK which can result in disruption to aviation as the fine ash in the plume can, in sufficient concentrations, damage aircraft engines. High-pressure weather systems, which tend to result in more stable weather conditions, can result in prolonged periods of unfavourable weather conditions and therefore prolonged ash incursions over the UK.”
But volcanoes erupting mostly lava also pose a danger to the UK. The Laki eruption of 1783-84 is cited as as a time when high levels of “sulphur dioxide, chlorine and fluorine were released over a number of months causing visible pollution across the UK and Northern Europe whic is thought to have resulted in mass crop failure and thousands of excess deaths.”
This being the case, the UK government has recently implemented steps to better prepare for an Icelandic eruption. “Following the volcanic ash disruptions in 2010 significant work has been undertaken to better monitor volcanic hazards and understand the impacts that explosive and effusive eruptions would have. This includes building stronger relations with relevant international organisations and the establishment of networks of experts on volcanic hazards more widely. Work continues within central government to better understand, and plan – in a proportionate way – for the expected impacts of all types of eruption.”