Off to Iceland

The 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland happened just as I was about to leave the island. I was lucky enough to be in the first helicopter cleared to fly to the volcano after airspace was reopened. An Icelandic Coast Guard helicopter based at the Hotel Ranga was the first to fly over the erruption at about 9 Am. Our Bell Jet Ranger flew at 4 Pm. The eruption occurred beneath the glacial ice that blanketed the volcano. The cold water from the melting ice chilled the lava quickly, causing it to fragment into very small particles of glass (silica) and ash, which were carried into the eruption plume. Due to the extremely fine nature of the ash particles and the large volume of steam produced from the glacial meltwater, an ash plume that is hazardous to aircraft was rapidly sent high into the upper atmosphere. The presence and location of the plume depended upon the state of the eruption and the winds. Because of the unusually stable, south-easterly path of the Jet Stream, and because of the large quantity of glacial meltwater flowing into the eruption vent, this eruption became sufficiently explosive that it was able to inject its ash plume directly into the jet stream. The ash was then carried over Europe into some of the busiest airspace in the world. Flights cancelled during an 8 day period, accounting for 48% of total air traffic and roughly 10 million passengers.

I’m headed back to see how the island has recovered and to join a group of friends. We’ll be photographing Iceland’s glacial lagoon (Jokullsarlon) by the light of the moon with northern lights. We’ll also take super-jeeps into the winter wonderlands of the volcanic highlands of Landmannalaugar. And, we’ll hike the south coast’s glaciers during the season when they are bluest and ice caves are most numerous.



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