28 April 2010

Sudden Tipping Points

Cripes! See last sentence!

Reposted in full from the New Scientist, 24 March 2010

'It's not just Iceland's economy that is volatile. The Eyjafjallajökull volcano spewed lava last week - and in the past, such eruptions have set off neighbouring Katla, one of the largest volcanoes on the island.

Katla blew every 40 to 80 years in the thousand years before the last time in 1918. "The eruption is long overdue," says Dave McGarvie of the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK.

"There is quite a bit of anxiety in Iceland about the potential size." Communications links could be cut and transatlantic flights could be disrupted by high-altitude dust.

Katla, beneath the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, has a reputation for triggering jökulhlaup - the sudden release of meltwater from glaciers and ice sheets. Its last eruption generated a peak discharge of 1.6 million cubic metres per second within 4 to 5 hours and moved so much debris that Iceland's coastline was extended by 4 kilometres.'

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