Published September 24, 2018
Despite what you may have seen in the more lurid headlines circulating, Katla, one of Iceland’s most famous volcanoes, is not giving any indications that it is about to erupt.
Although many news outlets have been guilty of exaggerated reporting of Katla’s current state, the Daily Mail has probably been the most notorious offender. They not only claimed that Katla is about to erupt, they also contended that its effects will “dwarf” the ash cloud emitted by Eyjafjallajökull in 2010.
While they cite an interview they took with Evgenía Ilyinskaya, one of the authors of the latest report on Katla, she has taken to Facebook to say she was misquoted, and attributed with saying things that she never said.
“[A]t NO point talking to ANY of the journalists who have reported on this study have I said the words ‘magma build-up’,” she writes. “Our study shows nothing of the sort. Yet, these words are in every report – supposedly quoting me directly. This not only misinforms the people who read it but undermines me as a scientist and a specialist in my field. Can’t help feeling exasperated.”
Further, Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson of the Institute of Earth Sciences stated in no uncertain terms: “There seems to be some misunderstanding in the media on the meaning of these important results. They should not be taken as a prediction of an eruption in Katla in the near future. And they do not predict the size and magnitude of the next eruption.”
What, then, actually is happening at Katla? The report on the volcano, which is available to the general public, offers a “plain language summary” which states:
“We discovered that Katla volcano in Iceland is a globally important source of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in spite of being previously assumed to be a minor gas emitter. Volcanoes are a key natural source of atmospheric CO2 but estimates of the total global amount of CO2 that volcanoes emit are based on only a small number of active volcanoes. Very few volcanoes which are covered by glacial ice have been measured for gas emissions, probably because they tend to be difficult to access and often do not have obvious degassing vents. Through high‐precision airborne measurements and atmospheric dispersion modelling, we show that Katla, a highly hazardous subglacial volcano which last erupted 100 years ago, is one of the largest volcanic sources of CO2 on Earth, releasing up to 5% of total global volcanic emissions. This is significant in a context of a growing awareness that natural CO2 sources have to be more accurately quantified in climate assessments and we recommend urgent investigations of other subglacial volcanoes world‐wide.”
Katla is indeed doing interesting things, in terms of CO2 emissions, but there is absolutely no indication that the volcano is close to erupting, let alone on a scale that would surpass Eyjafjallajökull.