Iceland volcano eruption puts airlines on alert

AP

Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano began erupting Saturday under the ice of Europe’s largest glacier, prompting the closure of nearby airspace.

Thousands of small earthquakes have rattled the volcano, deep beneath the Vatnajokull glacier, in the last week. Seismic data show magma was melting ice beneath the glacier’s Dyngjujokull ice cap. The remote area, 320 km east of the capital, Reykjavik, is uninhabited.

The Civil Protection Department said scientists flew over the ice cap Saturday but saw no visible signs of the eruption on the surface. Still, the country raised its aviation alert to red, the highest level on a five-point scale, indicating the threat of “significant emission of ash into the atmosphere.”

Iceland also declared a no-fly zone of 100 nautical miles by 140 nautical miles around the eruption as a precaution, but did not shut down air space over most of the nation. “All airports are open and flights are on schedule,” said spokeswoman Olof Baldursdottir.

A 2010 eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul volcano produced an ash cloud that caused a week of international aviation chaos, with more than 100,000 flights canceled.

Authorities said it was not clear when, or if, the eruption would melt through the ice, which is 100 to 400 meters thick, and fling steam and ash into the air. It could take up to a day for the ice to melt, or the eruption may remain contained.