Researcher prepares the world for the next large volcanic eruption – University of Copenhagen

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24 April 2018

Researcher prepares the world for the next large volcanic eruption

VOLCANIC ERUPTION

The compilation of 400 year-old ash samples may help predict the next large Icelandic volcanic eruption, which may be imminent. This is the result of new research from University of Copenhagen that may save human lives and mean billions in savings for air traffic.

The compilation of 400 year-old ash samples may help predict the next large Icelandic volcanic eruption. The research may save human lives and mean billions in savings for air traffic as a new eruption may be imminent.

Geologist Johanne Schmith from Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management at University of Copenhagen is engaged in physical volcanology and compiles and describes volcanic ash and uses physical models to understand the volcanic eruptions that created the ash.

Her PhD project includes more than one hundred ash samples from the two ash layers that were formed when the volcano Katla in the south-eastern part of Iceland erupted in 1625 and in 1755 and ash rained from the sky.

“In 1625 Katla’s ash rained down over the harbour in Bergen in Norway, colouring the ships’ sails black.  Solely on the basis of the ash layers from 1625 and 1755, there is no doubt that these eruptions were larger than the 2010 eruption where no visible ash fell over Europe”, explains Johanne Schmith and continues:

“My research shows that Katla is more dangerous than previously assumed, and with the new knowledge about the disasters of the past, we will be able to prepare ourselves for her next big eruption”

Volcanic data to secure air space

One of the main purposes of Johanne Schmidt’s PhD project was to collect data from the historic volcanic eruptions and measure the size of the ash grains, the height of the ash plume and the amount of material erupted per time unit. 

The information will be used by VAAC, a global network that monitors volcanoes, in the future to make real-time models of the extension of the ash plume so that the air space in the affected areas can be closed for air traffic.

“It seems completely crazy that nobody has made a modelling for Katla. Katla is assessed to be one of the most dangerous Icelandic volcanoes in all hazard assessment reports, and it has been the most productive volcano since Iceland was populated around 1100 years ago”, says Johanne Schmith.

Johanne Schmith will be in the final of the PhD Cup which is broadcast on DR on 27 April. She will tell the audience about her research into Icelandic volcanoes and about the compilation of more than 100 ash samples from two large volcanic eruptions in 1625 and 1755.