Monday, November 9, 2015

Icelandic volcano SO2 levels top up European industry emissions

The Icelandic volcanic eruption from last year released three times more SO2 than all European industry combined.

The volcanic eruption in Iceland that occurred in August 2014 released three times more sulphur dioxide (SO2) than all industrial sources in Europe combined in 2010.

An international research team led by the University of Leeds measured the SO2 emitted by the Bárðarbunga volcano – the biggest eruption in more than 200 years that lasted six months – and found that up to 120,000 tonnes per day of SO2 gas was released.

Research leader Dr Anja Schmidt from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds said: “The eruption discharged lava at a rate of more than 200 m2/s, which is equivalent to filling five Olympic-sized swimming pools in a minute. Six months later, when the eruption ended, it had produced enough lava to cover an area the size of Manhattan.”
In the study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, the team used data from surface air quality observations from across Northern Europe together with satellite remote sensing data and model simulations of volcanic SO2 to map the spreading gas cloud from the eruption.

The map showed SO2 emissions of up to 120,000 tonnes per day (t/d) during early September 2014, followed by a decrease to 20,000–60,000 t/d between 6 and 22 September 2014, followed by a renewed increase to 60,000–120,000 t/d until the end of September 2014.

“We were concerned with the quantity of SO2 emissions, with numbers that are equally astonishing: in the beginning, the eruption emitted about eight times more SO2 per day than is emitted from all man-made sources in Europe per day,” said Dr Schmidt.

The researchers hope their findings, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, will help them understand how such eruptions affect air quality in the UK.

“This eruption produced lava instead of ash, and so it didn’t impact on flights – but it did affect air quality. These results help scientists predict where pollution from future eruptions will spread,” said research associate Dr John Stevenson.
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