Iceland says no imminent danger of volcanic eruption, lowers aviation alert level

AP

Iceland lowered its aviation alert level to orange from red Sunday, saying there was no sign of an imminent eruption at the Bardarbunga volcano. And scientists at the Icelandic Meteorological Office said their announcement Saturday that the volcano had experienced a subglacial eruption was wrong.

But the office cautioned in a statement that seismic activity at the volcano, which has been hit by thousands of earthquakes over the past week, is not slowing, and an eruption remains a possibility in the coming days.

Two earthquakes with a magnitude of over 5 — the biggest yet — shook the volcano beneath the vast Vatnajokull glacier early Sunday. The agency recorded earthquakes of 5.3 and 5.1 in the early hours.

On Saturday Iceland raised the alert for aviation to red, the highest level on a five-point scale, warning that an ash-emitting eruption could be imminent.

An orange alert indicates “heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption.”

After the alert was lowered, aviation authorities lifted a no-fly zone that had been imposed for 100 nautical miles by 140 nautical miles (185 km by 260 km) around the volcano.

A 2010 eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul volcano caused a week of international aviation chaos, with more than 100,000 flights canceled. Aviation officials closed Europe’s air space for five days out of fear that volcanic ash could harm jet engines.

Any new eruption will likely be less disruptive. European aviation authorities have changed their policy, giving airlines detailed information about the location and density of ash clouds but leaving decisions to airlines and national regulators.

“Even if there were to be a major eruption, it would not necessarily produce a high ash column, so the likelihood of interruption of trans-Atlantic and European air travel remains low,” said Open University geoscientist David Rothery.

Britain’s National Air Traffic Service said it is monitoring what it called a “dynamic situation” but expected normal operations Sunday.