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Dangers of Eruption Pollution

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Dangers of Eruption Pollution

sulfur dioxide pollution from Holuhraun eruption in Fáskrúðsfjörður, East Iceland, September 10, 2014
S2 pollution in the East Fjords in September. Photo: Zoë Robert.

Q: How will the SO2 pollution from the Holuhraun eruption affect my travel plans?

We had been hoping to drive the Ring Road in July. How will the pollution from Holuhraun affect our travel plans?

Cindy.

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A: The eruption in Holuhraun ended on February 27. As reported this morning, the restricted area around the Holuhraun eruption site has now been significantly reduced. The restricted area now extends 20 m (66 feet) outside the edges of the new lava field, to the edge of Dyngjujökull outlet glacier on the south side, the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum to the east and to the westernmost branches of Jökulsá á Fjöllum in the west. The decision is based on a risk assessment from the Icelandic Met Office covering risk factors in the area.

However, according to meteorologist Elín Björk Jónasdóttir, volcanic gas pollution may continue to be emitted from the site for some time. “There are examples of large areas of lava which continue to de-gas for weeks and months after the eruption is over. Now that we don’t have the great power which the crater gave the gas plume, the gas which rises from the lava now will likely not travel as high and we might be looking at more pollution at the surface than what we’ve seen so far,” Elín told ruv.is on February 28. Pollution is most likely to the south of Vatnajökull, in the East Fjords and north of the eruption site, she said.

Since the eruption ended, SO2 pollution has not been picked up in inhabited areas and the likelihood of that happening decreases with time. High gas levels continue to be measured close to the new lava field but the Ring Road is nowhere near the eruption site.

While the eruption was ongoing, the pollution usually only exceeded the maximum health limits in certain places for short periods at a time and therefore it remained safe to travel to Iceland during the eruption too. You can monitor air quality in Iceland at airquality.is. Should the levels exceed the maximum safe limit, warnings are issued on en.vedur.is.

If necessary, warnings are also issued by sms messages to all mobile phones which are turned on and located in affected areas.

More information about the pollution can be found on the website of the Directorate of Health.

In sum, there is no reason at all for you to change your travel plans to Iceland this summer.

ZR