4.05.2010

Enter the dragon


Last week's eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano (say that five times realllly fast) caused the evacuation of "only" a few hundred people when it blew its top.

But what's really got people's attention is that the big E typically serves as foreplay to the main event: the eruption of Katla, Iceland's most dangerous volcano. If Katla rears her head like only she can, the effect in Iceland could mean a massive glacier melt with the output of the Amazon, Nile, Yangtze and Mississippi. Combined.

In the rest of the world, climatologists say that the effect of massive ash and gas pumping into the atmosphere would be extended global cooling .... a stark contrast from our current world that'll definitely push up those real estate prices for your grandma's Florida condo.

Of course, you might be cynical of a mass market weather prediction at this point. And who wouldn't be? But hearing the lava talk got me remembering a conversation I had with a climbing guide in Iceland when I visited a few years ago. "Everybody wants to see the disappearing glaciers," he said to me, with an expression that was half chuckle, half sneer. "But what's really important are the volcanoes."

As we walked through the treeless, lava rocked terrain, he didn't talk much about recent history to support his claim. Instead, he talked about the late 1700s, when the Laki volcano spewed ash and lava for more than eight months, pumping out miles and miles of basalt lava and clouds of poisonous gases that decimated the island's livestock and resulted in a 25% population decline. Bad as 1783 was, the after-effects of the volcano allegedly dropped the global temperatures enough to cause European famines ... and spurred on a very hungry, very grumpy French population to start doing very creative things with knives and pitchforks.

With a genuine laugh, he joked one final time with me, saying that -- thanks to the volcanoes -- eventually Iceland will be the largest country in the world.

The good news, I guess, is that nobody's talking about Iceland's economic crisis anymore.

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