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The Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull made worldwide headlines in 2010 when it erupted ash that was blown towards Europe, so that air traffic was grounded across the continent. More recently, the volcano's bigger sister and neighbour, Katla, has also been in the news. First the papers said the "giant volcano" was ready to blow, yet within days articles were appearing to say it was all a mistake and the eruption news was premature. What is going on?
Over the past 1,100 years, Katla has erupted at least 21 times—an average of around once every 50 years or so. It is exactly a century since the volcano's last major eruption through the ice, which produced a 14km high column of fragmented volcanic rocks and gas, as well as enormous floods of meltwater, sediment and ice. But this doesn't mean that another is "due". Volcanoes don't erupt to schedule. So why do headlines regularly appear to suggest this is the case?
News - Flurry - Publication - Paper - Team
This latest news flurry was triggered by the publication of an academic paper by a team of scientists lead by Evgenia Ilyinskaya at the University of Leeds. They had carried out gas-monitoring surveys at Katla in 2016-17, which showed it emitted much more CO₂ than previously estimated. One of the exciting parts of this research was the recommendation that gas monitoring becomes part of the regular observations of volcanoes that are hidden under glaciers or ice sheets. However, many news outlets incorrectly suggested that the observation of these carbon dioxide emissions meant an eruption was imminent, and sounded the alarm.
This sensationalist approach causes more damage beyond merely being incorrect. From a distance, readers and viewers might be interested in the science, the human story, or because even faraway eruptions can have economic or health costs. But for those living in the shadow of the...
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