Be Very Scared about Katla

This is a strong introduction to what are some of the world’s scariest volcanoes.  Iceland can be thought of as mostly one very large strata volcano that has been built on successions of eruptions.  This week’s events are at best a warm up to months of activity.  The only positive spin that I can put on this is that this particular volcano is tending to been lazy.
Read all this and become very scared.  The present threat is a monthly bombardment of Europe with ash clouds.  We will get better at working with the problem but there is not much meaning here in the word better.  It will likely perk a long for perhaps two years.
It is still a mess.
The real problem is that nearby Katla has always apparently blown when this one went off.  That is the history no one is talking about.  These graphs show us activity has jumped in the past two days likely indicating movement of magma.
And of course Katla is a big one able to blast two orders of magnitude larger.  That makes it in the same class as Hekla.  Hekla’s blast in 1159bce ended the Northern European Bronze Age and inflicted damage in the Middle East.  The tsunami knocked out Atlantis and its sea people culture.
The real measure of the damage is that cropping was suspended for twenty years.  Imagine Europe and Russia without any harvests for twenty years.
Volcanoes are the one event that is able to actually destroy civilizations.  We should never forget that.

Posted: Sunday, April 18, 2010

By Chris Jansing, NBC News correspondent
For almost 24 hours after the cloud cover had lifted, I’d been watching with awe as the volcanic plume over Eyjafjallajokull grew.  It was especially dramatic at night with bright white lightning strikes and bursts of energy glowing orange and red against the backdrop of that now enormous gray-black plume. But nothing prepared me for what it would be like to fly over the open mouth of the crater and watch a non-stop display of massive, heart-stopping eruptions.
As the helicopter ascended to 5,000, then 6,000 feet - hovering right against the side of these eruptions - the view was unlike anything I could ever have imagined. The billowing mounds that appear largely benign from the ground; that seem to move only in shifting winds, were instead dramatically alive.  There were so many different kinds of eruptions – ferocious, riveting explosions – it was like watching multiple displays of Fourth of July fireworks at once, and at eye level. And they were so tantalizingly – and terrifyingly – close, I felt I could almost reach out and touch them. The door of the helicopter was wide open with the legs of my phenomenal videographer, Carlos, hanging out the side.  And me, simultaneously mesmerized by the awesome display and protectively grasping the strap of his camera from the back. 
This is one time when I don’t think if I sat at my computer for days the words would come to describe what many of you may have already seen on Nightly News or TODAY. But suffice it to say that what a lens can’t begin to adequately capture is the sheer size and unbelievable force of that volcanic ice mixing with superheated magma: a mountain belching out tons of molten rock is a mind-blowing spectacle.
Soon, we were circling around the mouth of the volcano, only occasionally catching a glimpse down into the crater as yet another blast would momentarily light the opening in the Earth. From every angle and every changing direction, the scene dazzled. Unlike those Independence Day celebrations, there were no breaks in the action, and no SOUND to be heard over the roaring of the helicopter blades and what I felt, but surely couldn’t actually hear:  the pounding of my heart.
Eight miles and a swift ride away we descended more closely above the blindingly sunlit Katla. Eyafjalla is the fifth largest volcano of the 35 in Iceland, Katla the biggest.  Geologically, there is no link between the two, though physically they are close enough that the visual contrast between the glistening glacier blanketing Katla and the exploding glacier that had capped Eyafjalla was enough to leave even our University of Cambridge volcanologist temporarily speechless. I knew from earlier interviews that small earthquakes were rumbling beneath Eyafjalla, shifting the flow of magma and opening new pathways for its movements. It is entirely possible – some experts believe even likely  - that one of those seismic shifts will travel across the eight miles and spark Katla to blow. She’s about 40 years overdue, and if Katla goes, my new volcanologist friend finally told me, the force could be ONE HUNDRED TIMES what we’re seeing now. Given what I had just witnessed, I cannot begin to fathom the enormity of that kind of brilliant, destructive power. 
After an hour in the air, astounded, shaken, and convinced that I would never see a display of Mother Nature quite like what I had just witnessed, we drove around the mountain through police roadblocks, cautiously aware of warnings about the unpredictable danger on the other side, and entered what I described in my story as hell. The wind had changed direction overnight, and the ever-growing cloud of ash was now blanketing farms along the southern edge of the volcano. At first, it looked like driving into a tornado. There were even small funnels of volcanic grit moving across open fields, like mini-twisters.  But again, the landscape would change in an instant and we went from daylight to darkness and back again in the course of 30 seconds. Our SUV was soon coated in fine ash and within moments of stepping out onto the desolate road, so were we.  I only had my mask off for a few minutes, but my throat and eyes were burning as I breathed in the miniscule shards of ice and rock blown apart by volcanic energy. A few cars, then trucks hauling horse trailers, rushed by - escaping the dark, enveloping cloud. I felt conflicted: wanting to escape myself from something so frightening and erratic, and yet completely captivated by those same forces. Wind gusts blew the camera over and nearly knocked me off my feet. A pair of birds, coated in ash, struggled with limited success to take flight. Then the clock made my stay-or-flee decision for me: we had to get back, write and edit, and set up for a liveshot. 
After being calmed and cleansed by a hot shower and the brief quiet of my hotel room, we were back in the filthy car driving up a gravel road to a house in the shadow of Eyjafjalla. The cattle farm needed no adornment to look like a movie set: a corrugated metal barn door, a bale of hay, and a trailer hitch aglow in sea of television lights. It’s all so surreal I wonder for a fleeting moment if I really did see and experience so much in one day – or was it a creation for the cameras? In reality, no studio budget, however large, could concoct what unfolded before me or make me feel what it did.  I’ve been awed and alarmed by Mother Nature before – covering fires, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes  - but never, ever, quite like this.

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