After lying dormant for more than two centuries the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in Iceland has now erupted twice in a month, bringing chaos to northern Europe and destruction to its surroundings. Last night's eruption under a glacier, which spewed massive clouds of ash miles into the sky, was 10 to 20 times more powerful than the one last month, scientists said. But disruption could last for weeks because the volcano's last eruption lasted two years from 1821 to 1823. Today's caused local rivers to rise by up to 10 feet as the ferocious heat melted the glacier, turning it to water which gushed down the mountain. Iceland's main coastal ring road was closed near the volcano, and workers smashed three holes in the highway to give the rushing water a clear route to the coast and prevent bridges from being swept away. Emergency workers rescued scores of tourists from around the glacier as it spewed smoke and steam. Forecasters said Londoners will have an astonishing sunset tonight due to the Icelandic eruption. The Met Office said a vivid “volcanic lavender” sunset was likely. Eruptions create what experts call a “volcanic aerosol” — a colourful mixture of ash and sulphur compounds — in the stratosphere.
This scatters an invisible blue glow which, when mixed with the red light of the setting sun, produces a vivid crimson and violet hue. The eruption could affect the UK until early next week, and cause changes to temperatures across Europe. “The problem is that we have an area of high pressure, which is pushing the cloud from Iceland directly over Britain,” said Brendan Jones of MeteoGroup. “That will not change until early next week, so as long as the volcano keeps erupting, we will have the ash cloud.” At 11am, the ash cloud was at around 20,000 feet and Mr Jones confirmed Britain was unlikely to see much of it because the ash is so diluted. The most noticeable effect is likely to be at sunrise and sunset, when the particles are illuminated. “The sky isn't going to go dark, and its unlikely we will see any deposits at all on the ground.” However, Mr Jones said previous eruptions have caused major problems. “If you look back in history there have been some periods where the weather has been changed by big volcanic eruptions like Mount Tambora and Mount St Helens.” In 1815 a huge eruption by Mount Tambora on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa spewed out massive amounts of sulphur dioxide which combined with water vapour to form a sulphuric acid mist that reflected sunlight away from the earth. That caused such a drop in temperatures that 1816 became known as “the year with no summer”.
A spokesman for the UK's National Air Traffic Service (Nats) said its airspace restriction was the worst in living memory, and that it was "very unlikely that the situation over England will improve in the foreseeable future".
The restrictions silenced Heathrow airport, the world's second busiest, and stranded tens of thousands of passengers around the world. Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands all later shut down their airspace entirely, while there was also major disruption in Finland, France, Germany and Spain.
Tim Farish, who had been planning to fly from Oslo to London on business, told the BBC he had been told by the airline SAS to stay at home and not bother calling for updates.
In 1982, British Airways and Singapore Airways jumbo jets lost all their engines when they flew into an ash cloud over Indonesia. Reports said that the ash sandblasted the windscreen and clogged the engines, which only restarted when enough of the molten ash solidified and broke off.
A KLM flight had a similar experience in 1989 over Alaska.
Stewart John, a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and former president of the Royal Aeronautical Society, explained that the ash can cause severe damage.
"This dust really is nasty stuff," he told BBC News. "It's extremely fine and if it gets into a jet engine, it blocks up all of the ventilation holes that bleed in cooling air.
"Jet engines operate at about 2,000C, and the metals can't take that. The engine will just shut down."
In the case of the 1982 British Airways flight, Mr John explained, when the plane emerged from the cloud, the pilot repeatedly tried and failed to restart the engines.
"They were going down and down, and had just about accepted that they would have to ditch.
"But, at the last minute, one engine started. By repeatedly turning the engine over and having a clean airflow going through, he managed to blow the ash out."