The 2010 volcanic eruption in Iceland caused the worst disruption to air travel since World War II.
Europe’s tourism industry was thrown into chaos when a series of relatively minor volcanic events coalesced in Eyjafjallajokull, on the southern part of the island.
Seismic activity began in late 2009 and intensified until March 20, when the volcano – covered in ice – finally erupted.
The eruption was small – just one in seven on the scale used to measure eruptions. On a global scale, it was a relatively minor event at the time.
However, about five days later, scientists began to notice unusual activity.
They found evidence that magma was flowing from beneath the crust into the Eyjafjallajokull magma chamber, and the pressure from this process caused massive displacement of the Earth’s crust.
Although the eruption began as an effusive eruption – in which lava flows from the volcano across the earth’s surface – the volcano then entered its explosive phase on April 14. This time the explosion was measured as a four on the volcanic scale
Meanwhile, the ice surrounding the volcano began to melt and flow into the volcano.
This rapid cooling caused the magma to fragment into tiny and jagged ash particles. This also increased the volcano’s explosive power.
Although the eruption began as an effusive eruption – in which lava flows from the volcano across the surface – the volcano then entered its explosive phase on April 14. This time the explosion was measured at four on the volcanic scale.
A huge cloud of dust was shot into the air, reaching up to nine kilometers high. The explosion also threw approximately 250 million cubic meters of volcanic material into the air.
To make matters worse, the volcano was directly beneath the jet stream, and the rapid cooling from the icy water gave the volcano enough power to shoot ash directly at it.
The jet stream was also extremely stable at the time and sent ash particles from the volcano continuously southeast – towards Europe.
Between April 14 and 20, ash from the volcanic eruption covered large areas of Northern Europe.
Some 20 countries closed their airspace to commercial jet traffic, affecting around 10 million travelers, and almost 100,000 flights to and within Europe were canceled in six days.
The Association of Airport Operators (AOA) estimated that airports lost £80 million in six and a half days while the disruption lasted for about a month.
In the UK alone, thirteen travel agencies went bankrupt in the summer of 2010. Dust cloud disruption was cited as one of the factors.
A huge cloud of dust was shot into the air, reaching up to nine kilometers high. The explosion also threw approximately 250 million cubic meters of volcanic material into the air
Several sports matches were postponed and Liverpool Football Club had to travel by bus to Madrid to play a Europa League match.
Although traffic disruptions continued mainly throughout April, volcanic activity at Eyjafjallajokull continued until October, when scientists announced that the eruption had ended.
In 2011, a volcano beneath the Vatnajökull glacier spewed thousands of tons of ash into the sky in a matter of days, raising fears that travel chaos could repeat itself in northern Europe.
Although the explosion was larger than Eyjafjallajokull, the impact was not as extensive.
As a result of the eruption that took place on May 23–25, a total of 900 flights (out of 90,000 in Europe) were canceled.
In 2014, Bárðarbunga erupted, the largest eruption in Iceland in over 200 years. However, this ultimately only affected local travel.