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Iceland has a high concentration of active volcanoes due to unique geological conditions. The island has about 130 volcanic mountains, of which 18 have erupted since the settlement of Iceland in 874 AD. Over the past 500 years, Iceland’s volcanoes have erupted a third of the total global lava output. Although the Laki eruption in 1783 had the largest eruption of lava in the last 500 years, the EldgjÃ¡ eruption of 934 AD and other Holocene eruptions were even larger.
Geologists explain this high concentration of volcanic activity as being due to a combination of the island’s position on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and a volcanic hotspot underneath the island. The island sits astride the boundary between the Eurasian and North American Plates, and most volcanic activity is concentrated along the plate boundary, which runs across the island from the south-west to the north-east of the island. Some volcanic activity occurs offshore, especially off the southern coast. This includes wholly submerged submarine volcanoes and even newly formed volcanic islands such as Surtsey and JÃ³lnir.
The most recent[update] volcanic eruption in Iceland was that of EyjafjallajÃ¶kull, which started on April 14, 2010. The EyjafjallajÃ¶kull eruption closely followed an eruption in FimmvÃ¶rÃ°uhÃ¡ls, which had erupted on March 20, temporarily quiesced by April 12, and then erupted with a large ash plume (due to magma coming out under ice) on April 15. The ash cloud was significant enough to shut down airports across over 20 European countries, many of which remain closed as of April 19.
Millions of tons of ash from a volcano in Iceland that have grounded planes across Europe is traveling towards North America, government officials report.
The latest satellite projections from the U.K.’s Met Office, which monitors volcanic eruptions as part of a global network of Ash Advisory Centers, show the ash cloud already reaching as far as Newfoundland, explained Bob Syvret, a forecaster for the agency.
“The latest graphics that we’ve issued suggest that the tail end of the plume might just get into the far east of the Newfoundland area,” he told FoxNews.com.
But breathe easier, travellers: “It doesn’t look a risk for North America” at this point, said Syvret, adding that the cloud would “probably stop around the Newfoundland area, and then move north into Greenland.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed the report from the Met Office, noting that the Met’s projections “do show an extension westward across the North Atlantic.”
Authorities evacuated hundreds of people after the fifth largest volcano in Iceland erupted beneath a glacier.
But Jeff Osiensky, NOAA’s volcanic ash program manager, explained that the projected regions don’t denote ash clouds hovering over the country. The maps are advisory areas primarily based on models, he said, and discussions with the Canadian Met Office confirmed his suspicions.
“There’s no indication of volcanic ash anywhere near Newfoundland. No observational type data to support that right now.”
Up to 63,000 flights have been cancelled in Europe due to the volcanic eruption at Iceland’s EyjafjallajÃ¶kull volcano, which has spewed dust and ash across the country at a tremendous rate. Within the first 72 hours of the eruption, Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences reported the average discharge rate of ash at 750 tons per second — a rate that could fill Yankee Stadium every few seconds.
Syvret explained that it was difficult to accurately measure the volume of ash in the air, but nonetheless believed that the situation shouldn’t pose a threat to American airports.
“It shouldn’t get any worse,” he told FoxNews.com.
A representative for the FAA explained that the administration hadn’t issued any formal statements yet, but were watching the situation.
Scientists noted Monday morning that the ash plume rising above Iceland’s erupting volcano was now reaching a height of about 1.2 miles. Last week, the tower of ash was as high as 6.8 miles.
“The situation is definitely better than it was particularly on Saturday, which was a difficult day for us due to heavy ash fall just south of the volcano,” said Urdur Gudmundsdottir, a spokeswoman at the foreign ministry.
But Gudmundsdottir was careful to avoid saying the worst was over for the island of 320,000 — and for the tens of thousands of people stranded at airports for the past five days.
“As you know, things are changing very quickly,” she said.
An official at the Meteorological Office said ash production had fallen sharply and the nature of the eruption appeared to be changing.
“Our web cameras show that there is not much ash but mostly steam now,” said Hjorleifur Sveinbjornsson, a geologist at the Meteorological Office. “The color of the steam is brown but also quite white so it is more like water vaporizing.”
There was still a risk, however, that molten rock could create new pathways for water to run into the crater, causing more explosions and a higher level of ash production, he said.
Scientists flying above the volcano told the Met Office lava had burst from the crater and onto the Eyjafjallajokull glacier that sits atop the volcano. The glacier, about 75 miles southeast of Reykjavik, is normally a popular hiking ground.
A reporter flying overhead in a helicopter told state radio the volcano was spitting chunks of lava as big as a jeep.
Icelandic airspace has been closed, flights diverted and roads closed. The eruption was about 120km (75 miles) east of the capital, Reykjavik.
About 500 people were moved from the area, a civil protection officer said.
“We estimate that no-one is in danger in the area, but we have started an evacuation plan and between 500 and 600 people are being evacuated,” Sigurgeir Gudmundsson of the Icelandic civil protections department told the Agence France-Presse news agency.
The area is sparsely populated, but the knock-on effects from the eruption have been considerable.
A state of emergency is in force in southern Iceland and transport connections have been severely disrupted, including the main east-west road.
“Ash has already begun to fall in Fljotshlid and people in the surrounding area have reported seeing bright lights emanating from the glacier,” RUV public radio said on its website.
“It was a bit scary, but still amazing to see,” Katrin Moller Eiriksdottir, who lives in Fljotshlid, told the BBC News website.
“The ash had started falling and we couldn’t leave the car.”
Three Icelandair flights, bound for Reykjavik from the United States, were ordered to return to Boston, RUV radio reported.
Domestic flights were suspended indefinitely, but some international flights were scheduled to depart on Sunday.
There had initially been fears that the volcano could cause flooding, as it causes ice to melt on the glacier above it, but that scenario appears to have been avoided.
However, it could cause more activity nearby, scientists say.
“This was a rather small and peaceful eruption but we are concerned that it could trigger an eruption at the nearby Katla volcano, a vicious volcano that could cause both local and global damage,” said Pall Einarsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Science, Associated Press news agency reported.
As the eruption is taking place in an area that is relatively ice free, there is little chance of a destructive glacier burst like the one that washed away part of the east-west highway four years ago, after an eruption under the vast Vattnajoekull glacier.
Iceland lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the highly volatile boundary between the Eurasian and North American continental plates, with quakes and eruptions.
The last volcanic eruption in the Eyjafjallajoekull area occurred in 1821.