Scientists in Iceland are turning to new technologies to help them predict the next major volcanic eruption there.Katla is one of the country’s most active and dangerous volcanoes, covered by the Mýrdalsjökull glacier.
Researchers are watching it very closely because it has the potential to be more damaging than the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which brought Europe to a standstill in 2010.
The volcano normally has a major eruption about twice every 100 years – the last time it broke through the ice was in 1918.
This caused devastating glacial floods. And scientists say that, statistically, the volcano is overdue another major eruption.
DJI drone pilot Ferdinand Wolf came with us to Katla and explained how drones can monitor seismic activity by capturing footage and collecting data in areas that are difficult to reach.
“There are several uses for these drones to help the scientists. One would be to use the aerial images we take to create a detailed three-dimensional map of the volcano so you can see environmental changes in the area.
“Another use would be to put sensors on these drones or use infrared cameras to monitor thermal activities of an area and it is way more cost effective than a real-size helicopter.”
One of the drones was previously used to film within 200 feet of Iceland’s Bardabunga volcano – where the lava reached temperatures of almost 2000 degrees.
Those who work on the Katla glacier say they are concerned about what will happen when it erupts but have a well-rehearsed plan in place, as glacier guide Arnar Ingi Saevarsson explained:
“Of course the flood is going to be massive so the evacuation plan for us (who are) working at this location and the people that live here is plan A to evacuate to the town Vik. But if that fails, then we will have to evacuate to the farm above us from here.”
As well as using drones to keep an eye on the earth’s movements, scientists are also using advanced sensors and gps tracking to see whether magma is accumulating.
A team from the University of Iceland took us to another of the country’s most active regions, Reykjanes Peninsula, where they regularly check on the monitoring station set up there – one of many across the country.
University of Iceland geophysicist and coordinator of FutureVolc, Dr Freysteinn Sigmundsson, said: “The technology we use to try to foresee volcanic eruptions includes seismic monitors to pick up small earthquakes as magma is moving , as well as geothermal stations to measure the ground movements in terms of centimetres or millimetres of expansion, and includes sensors to detect volcanic gas.
“We take the data from all of these and analyse it together and provide information on the status of volcanoes,” he said.
Airlines are also embracing technology to make sure the 2010 volcanic crisis is not repeated.
Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul eruption, otherwise known as E-15, cost them an estimated €150 million euros (£110.4m) a day during the disruption.
The ash cloud shut European airspace and left more than 10 million people stranded.
EasyJet is among the companies introducing what is called AVOID (Airborne Volcanic Object Identifier and Detector) ash detection units onboard commercial carriers in the next few months.
The system uses infrared – supplying images to the pilot of ash in the flight path, allowing them to make adjustments to avoid it.
EasyJet’s engineering director, Ian Davies, told Sky News: “Since the closure of European airspace five years ago we have supported the development of innovative technology to prevent the widespread closure of airspace on the same unprecedented level as seen in 2010.
“Our research following the closure demonstrated that throughout the six-day airspace closure ash was only at the density level requiring closure for 2% of the time.
“Production of the AVOID unit is expected to start in the coming months and easyJet aims to fit the first unit onto one of its planes in the early part of 2016 to be the first airline equipped with the volcanic ash avoidance system.
“This pioneering innovation will help the aviation industry to avoid further disruption in European airspace from future volcanic activity by giving airlines the ability to safely navigate around ash clouds,” he said.