Sigtryggur Johannsson / Reuters

Icelandic volcano threatens air travel

Although eruption remains small, fears of flooding and ash cloud loom over the island nation

After thousands of small earthquakes, an Icelandic volcano lying beneath one of the island’s largest glaciers began erupting Saturday, authorities said.

Bardarbunga rumbled to life earlier this week, prompting scientists to warn of an impending eruption that could melt the glacier covering it. So far, the eruption has remained small, but Iceland’s airports’ authority warns that if the eruption melts through the ice, an ash cloud could snarl transatlantic air traffic just as Eyjafjallajökull did in spring 2010, according to local news reports.

Icelandic search and rescue authorities have ordered the evacuation of hundreds of tourists from the area around the Dyngju­jök­ul glacier, a popular place to sightsee and hike. While the area around Bardarbunga is uninhabited, the volcanic threat has hit the area’s tourism industry, with some resort spots having to close a month early, canceling bookings, according to state broadcasting service RUV, as translated by Iceland’s English-language news site The Grapevine.

A flood fed by glacial melt water would send water flowing north along the Jokulsa á Fjollum glacial river, RUV reported, in the direction of a number of popular tourist destinations.

Scientists with Iceland’s meteorological authority flew a reconnaissance plane over the glacier earlier Saturday, and didn’t see the eruption poking through the ice cap — yet. The danger of a sudden, violent eruption prompted Icelandic weather authorities to issue a warning for planes to avoid the area.

"It is believed that a small subglacial lava-eruption has begun under the Dyngjujokull glacier," the Icelandic Met Office said, according to Reuters. "The aviation color code for the Bardarbunga volcano has been changed from orange to red."

Twitter users followed the drama with the hashtag “#ashtag.” Some English speakers expressed fear that Bardarbunga would send jet-engine-choking ash high into the atmosphere.

Jason Rabinowitz, an airline industry researcher, tweeted: “To the entire airline industry: Good luck. #ashtag

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