BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Air travel may be resuming in some European
countries, but Michael F. Sheridan, PhD, a leading volcanologist
and founder of the University at Buffalo's Center for Geohazards
Studies, says that the future behavior of both the volcanic ash
cloud and the eruptive system that spurred it is difficult to
"It's hard to forecast the behavior of this volcanic system," he
says. "It is short-sighted to assume that even if air travel
returns to normal that the environmental problems related to the
eruption will end immediately."
In addition to air travel woes that the massive ash cloud has
already caused, it may trigger longer-term changes in climate and
health hazards, Sheridan says.
His concern stems from his understanding of similar kinds of
eruptions that have occurred in this part of Iceland.
"The oceanic crust in this region is slowly pulling apart along
giant fissures that extend deep enough to reach magma sources," he
says. "The volcanic magma rises along these fissures and erupts in
episodes when and where the fractures break at the surface."
Eruptions at adjacent volcanoes could be linked to the same
spreading episode, he adds, producing a compound effect.
The Eldgjá eruption of 934 AD was the largest outpouring
of flood basalt lava in historic times. Eruptions of Katla volcano,
a part of the Eldgjá volcanic fracture system, also are
sometimes linked to eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull volcano.
"Icelandic volcanoes that erupted from fissures have, in the
past, produced a profound climatic effect that can last several
years," he says, recalling the 1783-84 eruption of Lakigigar. "In
Europe, it produced three years of severe winters and a heat wave
in the summer following the onset of the eruption." he says.
There also were a large number of deaths related to the high
fluorine content of the ash, as well as health effects resulting
from the dense volcanic haze or fog.
Sheridan also notes that Eyjafjallajökull hasn't readily
yielded its history to scientists and observers.
"This volcano has a much more enigmatic record than others that
have more frequent eruptions," he says. "It's not like we know the
size of its magma chamber, the volume of its products or its
history. Its previous eruption lasted for two years, from
"It's a clever criminal, in that sense," he says.
Sheridan, who was a Fulbright Scholar in Iceland in 1978, has
spent the past four decades mapping hazards from active volcanoes
in Italy, Mexico, Ecuador and throughout the world, so that civil
authorities know how and when to evacuate populations at risk. He
has studied ways to improve mitigation efforts during and after
volcanic eruptions and other geologic hazards, such as mudslides
and the effects of hurricanes like Katrina.
The UB Center for Geohazards Studies is one component in UB's
strategic strength in mitigation and response to extreme events
identified in the UB 2020 strategic plan being implemented by the
university with the goal of rising among the ranks of the nation's
public research universities. The center represents an
interdisciplinary group of faculty researchers from the physical
and social sciences, engineering and the medical sciences.
For more information, please go to http://geohazards.buffalo.edu