Disgusting – the word a farmer just interviewed on the news used to describe the black ash raining down on the farms and fields below the Eyjafjallajökull glacier which has now erupted for five days. The footage was shot from within a car that seemed to have fallen into a deep tar pit, but was merely parked at the side of a road, waiting for a bad bout of the black precipitation to pass. Other images that followed were also in full agreement. Disgusting.
As I believe most people already know about the horrible effects this eruption has had on aviation in northern Europe I am not going to dwell on this side of the disaster. However, it should be noted that by not going into the details of this I am not attempting to skirt over the plight of stranded passengers, many of whom must be missing important events in their personal life. I simply believe that the major news networks have already described this side of the story in much more and far better detail than I can from here. The title of the blog is however from abroad, the UK to be exact where the joke is that we misunderstood, they asked for cash, not ash. Now that that has been cleared up we can hopefully bring the neverending Icesave negotiations to a closure suiting both parties.
What I believe has not been as widely reported is the havoc that the volcano reaps upon it closest surroundings – turning day into night and green to grey. The ash is so light and its particles so tiny that it seems from photos to behave in part like rain and in part like fog. It creeps though any crevice and as it piles up on the ground it seeps up moisture and becomes a bit like semi-hardened concrete. Photos of the area show an environment coated with gray sludge and farm and wild animals alike have all turned that same colour. Sheep, traditionally white look like the dusty stuff you see in attic corners in horror movies. Attempts have been made to herd all animals out of the area but this is hard because stampeding or even trotting disperses the extremely light ash and the animals disappear in a grey or black cloud.
Please take a lminute to look at the photographer’s site: Rakel Ósk Sigurðardóttir is an award winning photographer and has many more volcano photos posted on her website: www.rakelosk.com/blog/ in addition to various other photos showing Iceland and Icelanders in a less depressive state. I must mention that she is not my sister, nor is the prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir my mother. However if they were related to me in this way, my press photos would look a lot better and I would get to skip security in airports. Damn shame.
Domesticated animals have one thing going for them though – they have owners who have a vented interest in them being safe and sound. This does not apply to their wild counterparts, which in the case of the Eyjafjalla area mostly consists of birds and the occasional fox. Farmers have reported birds flying into barns and garages to seek shelter and these are usually let be, aside from a raven which got into a sheep shed and had to be evacuated because it could not be trusted to curb his appetite in the mutton buffet sharing the shelter. The poor thing tried his best to escape the inevitable but was finally ejected into the black day providing it no bearings. One can only hope he found his way out of the suffocating cloud.
So who is responsible for this destruction and hardship? Is it an evil entity whose face is exposed in the aerial photo of the craters taken in at the beginning of the eruption? Hardly. But cool nonetheless. But whoever is behind this has something new in store for us. Right now the eruption is changing. Clumps of lava the size of SUVs are being plummeted into the air but no lava flow is visible. This is believed to occur because the crater sides are too high for the lava to escape in the regular, more quaint fashion, although like with all irrational natural occurrences, this may change at the drop of a hat. Ash is still being dispersed but is not reaching the same high altitudes as before and hopefully this means that European flights can go back to schedule. For the farmers and the animals in the volcano’s vicinity the horror is by no means over.
Oddly enough life in Reykajvík and its suburbs is as if nothing is going on. The sky is blue, the airports are open and we would not know that there is an eruption if not for the news. This might change if the prevailing winds change in the days to come. My daughter’s school sent out an e-mail with a document explaining what pupils were to do in case of ash fallout over the city. It was really confusing and I am nowhere nearer to knowing what to do regarding her education in such an occurrence. The directions were a full two pages, setting up two alert levels which were a bit ridiculous, one for the scenario where it is difficult to get to school and some children show up and others not, and the other where the situation was bad enough for the school to close. I found two pages a bit generous for the obvious and in most part useless information set forth and it did not help that it had been written for snowstorms and had drawings of kids in snowsuits flying away, caught by gales (see accompanying picture). No mention of respiratory or eye protection, just statements of the obvious: if extreme conditions prevail then A) some parents might choose to keep their kids at home and B) the school might be closed and then no one will attend, even the ones that parents make show up. The gist of it could have fit into the subject line: your kid, your responsibility.
But I cannot leave this subject without stepping onto the soapbox and bellowing doomsday. You see, the eruption at Eyjafjallajökull is not particularly big at all. Unfortunately there is more to come and it ain’t pretty. It might not be tomorrow and possibly not even this year but it will be soon. Everyone here, me included, hopes it will not be anything like the Laki eruption of 1793 where the volcanic rift from which the eruption formed was 25 km long – more than ten times the diameter of the crater at Eyjafjallajökull. In it 60% of Icelandic farm animals were killed or starved, as did 20% of the human population. The Danish parliament discussed moving the remaining 40.000 people to Denmark to save them from the misery. Thankfully this bill was not passed. Historically there is more, the Hekla eruption of 1947 spewed ash 25 km up into the air and ash fell to the ground in Sweden. This and many other eruptions in pretty recent history would have stopped air traffic over Europe for extended periods. But on the bright side, I am sure there is a committee being assembled as I type, to figure out a way to tackle this future problem. One can only hope they do not employ my daughter’s school officials to figure out a plan based on a two level alert system.
Yrsa - Monday