Published July 20, 2015 02:36 PM

Eruption of Bardarbunga volcano in Iceland and its impact on SO2 concentrations in Europe

The six month long eruption of the Bardarbunga volcano (31 August 2014?27 February 2015 ) was the largest in Iceland since the devastating Laki eruption of 1783-84, producing around 1.6 km3 of lava, covering an area equivalent to Manhattan Island.

The eruption caused total Sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions of nearly 12m tonnes, which exceeded the total SO2 emitted in Europe in 2011. In Iceland, concentration of SO2 exceeded the 350 µg m-3 hourly average health limit over much of the country for days to weeks. However, the effects of the volcano were not confined to Iceland - many parts of Europe also saw high SO2 levels.

Researchers were initially concerned that the SO2 emissions would be much higher, which would have caused serious health problems throughout Iceland and perhaps Europe.

Lead researcher, Professor Sigurdur Gislason (University of Iceland) said

'In the end we were lucky, but at the end of September we were getting pretty scared. Eight thousand years ago - which is nothing in geological time - Bardarbunga experienced an eruption even bigger than that of the 1783-84 Laki eruption. So knowing the history, we were worried that we would see a comparable event. Laki killed around 10,000 people in Iceland (20% of the Icelandic population), and the resultant SO2 pollution is thought to have affected tens of thousands in Europe, especially in the Britain, France and the Netherlands'**

Writing in the peer-reviewed journal Geochemical Perspectives Letters (the journal of the European Association of Geochemistry), a group of Icelandic researchers has detailed the environmental effects of the Bardarbunga eruption.

Bardarbunga volcano image via Shutterstock.

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