A huge volcanic eruption in Iceland emitted on average three times as much of a toxic gas as all European industry combined, a new study has revealed.
Discharge of lava from the eruption at Bárðarbunga volcano, starting in August 2014, released a huge mass – up to 120,000 tonnes per day – of sulphur dioxide gas. You can watch a video of the eruption here.
These emissions can cause acid rain and respiratory problems.
Researchers hope that their study, published by the Journal of Geophysical Research, will aid understanding of how such eruptions can affect air quality in the UK.
Dr Anja Schmidt, a COMET Associate from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, who led the study, said: “The eruption discharged lava at a rate of more than 200 cubic metres per second, which is equivalent to filling five Olympic-sized swimming pools in a minute. Six months later, when the eruption ended, it had produced enough lava to cover an area the size of Manhattan.
“In the study, we were concerned with the quantity of sulphur dioxide emissions, with numbers that are equally astonishing: in the beginning, the eruption emitted about eight times more sulphur dioxide per day than is emitted from all man-made sources in Europe per day.”
The eruption last year was the biggest in Iceland for more than 200 years. It released a river of lava across northern Iceland, and lasted for six months.
The team, which also included COMET members Tamsin Mather, Elisa Carboni and Don Grainger from the University of Oxford, used data from satellite sensors to map sulphur dioxide pollution from the eruption. These were reproduced by computer simulations of the spreading gas cloud.
As well as being given off by volcanoes, sulphur dioxide is also produced by burning fossil fuels and industrial processes such as smelting. Man-made sulphur dioxide production has been falling since 1990, and was recorded at 12,000 tonnes per day in 2010.
The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
The study, ‘Satellite detection, long-range transport and air quality impacts of volcanic sulfur dioxide from the 2014-2015 flood lava eruption at Bárðarbunga (Iceland)’, is published by the Journal of Geophysical Research.