How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Volcano

The ‘A’ marks Katla.

Apparently, Katla, a volcano in Southern Iceland, is “showing signs of seismic activity,” which, according to The Reykjavik Grapevine (via  Morgunblaðið) is “similar to the activity that Katla showed in July 2011, when volcanic activity under the Mýrdalsjökull glacier rapidly melted the ice, causing a flood that wiped out roads in south Iceland.” Given that Katla is “very active,” these rumblings are being read by some in the international volcano-watching community as harkening the kind of “volcanic havoc” that would make the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption look tame in comparison. Some choice soundbites from The Telegraph article above:

    • ” Katla has erupted on average every 60 years, but has not had a significant eruption since 1918. Ominously, eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in 1821-23 and 1612 were followed within months by eruptions of Katla. Judged by the historical calendar, an eruption is overdue.”
    •  “Katla’s eruption in 1918 produced five times as much ash as the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull one. A major eruption could result in large parts of Iceland being flooded as snow and ice melted; significant poisoning of Icelandic agriculture; destruction of property; and, of course, the grounding of aircraft across Europe.”
    • “If enough material is ejected it could even have a cooling effect on the global climate for a few years. A precedent for that would be the 1783-84 eruption from the fissure of Laki, which is part of the same volcanic system, Grímsvötn, that erupted last year…Large eruptions such as this occur only every few hundred years on Iceland, but the potential for danger is significant. Even if deaths from famine are less likely today, a recent study of the potential effects of the air pollution caused by such an eruption estimates that it could lead to between 52,000 and 228,000 fatalities throughout Europe.”

Katla eruption in 1918 (photo via Wikipedia Commons)

Sounds grim, eh? But wait! says James Ashworth, “resident vocanologist” over at The Reykjavik Grapevine. Because, while it is certainly possible that Katla (or another Icelandic volcano) will erupt in the near future, the exact timing of the eruption and the relative scope of its damage cannot really be accurately predicted. And at the end of the day, you can’t really sit around biting your nails and worrying about the possibility that an Icelandic volcano is about to erupt. Why? Says Ashworth:

“Quite aside from all of this science and sensationalism, though, there is a more basic reason why you shouldn’t worry: BECAUSE YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT ANYWAY.”

And there you have your moment of zen. Will I probably freak out a little bit if it seems like a volcano is going to erupt while I am living in Iceland? Absolutely. (How does one ‘prepare’ for an onslaught of “liquid hot magma,” after all?) But I think this ‘don’t spend much time worrying about things you can’t predict or control’ philosophy is one that’s worth adopting.

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