A 1-km (3,280-feet) thick pollution layer which originated from the U.S. East Coast was detected by scientists at an altitude of 5 km above the Holuhraun eruption site on January 22. The scientists, who were measuring the composition of gases in the volcanic plume, noticed the pollution by coincidence.
Pollution from North America has never been confirmed in the atmosphere above Iceland before, as meteorologist Haraldur Ólafsson, who detected the pollution along with a French scientist, told visir.is today.
He added that while the pollution layer had been detected above the northeastern highlands, it had probably covered the entire island at the time.
“It’s notable because people have always thought that the pollution in Iceland comes from Europe, which it does of course, and one can sometimes smell it when the wind blows directly from the British Isles and the European mainland. People thought that the pollution which exists in the atmosphere above North America is too far away, that it would have rained into the ocean before it reaches Iceland,” Haraldur said.
It’s unclear how often Iceland is subjected to pollution from North America—since it has never been detected before—but Haraldur believes it might drift across the island several times a year.
For their research, the scientists use a balloon which they release into the air. The balloon then pumps air through tubes, in which there are sensors and lasers which take pictures of the tiny particles that pass through the tubes.
“It turned out that there’s a multitude of particles at that altitude above Holuhraun but they are not connected to the eruption because there is clean air in between,” Haraldur explained. He and his colleague then calculated from where the polluted air came.
Haraldur stated that the pollution doesn’t have a big impact on the weather in Iceland today but that it may have serious long-term consequences. “The soot falls on snow and ice in the Arctic regions and speeds up the melt in the spring and summer. That in turn has an effect on the climate in our part of the world and around the globe long term.”
Today it was reported that the glaciers in Iceland are melting faster than earlier believed, causing an uplift and more frequent volcanic eruptions.