Sunday 21 March 2010

Icelandic eruptions

An Icelandic volcano that had been dormant for two centuries has erupted, sending lava 300 feet into the air. About 500 people have been evacuated from the sparsely populated area about 75 miles east of Reykjavik.

Iceland is a mysterious country of volcanoes, geysers, bubbling, spitting mud and lunar landscapes, and there are fears that the eruption could cause flooding, or spark off the much more dangerous nearby Katla volcano.

Iceland’s deadliest ever eruption, and one of the deadliest in human history, came in 1783 when the Laki volcano threw the equivalent of Mont Blanc into the air. Burning lava overwhelmed 20 villages, blocked rivers burst their banks, and many also died from toxic fumes.

As with so many disasters, though, the real damage came in the aftermath (see my blog of March 17). In Iceland itself, crops failed, livestock starved, fish disappeared, and about 10,000 people – a quarter of the island’s population – died. Much of the Western hemisphere was enveloped in a volcanic winter, and some estimates say that this climate change caused more than 200,000 deaths. For the full story, see A Disastrous History of the World.

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