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( Editors Note: Earth quakes swarms continue at Katla, another very active Iceland volcano. Click on Volcanism navigation button above for latest update.)
What if one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recent history happened today? A new study suggests that a blast akin to one that devastated Iceland in the 1780s would waft noxious gases southeastward and kill tens of thousands of people in Europe. And in a modern world that is intimately connected by air traffic and international trade, economic activity across much of Europe, including the production and import of food, could plummet.
From June of 1783 until February of 1784, the Laki volcano in south-central Iceland erupted. Although the event didn’t produce large amounts of volcanic ash, it did spew an estimated 122 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide gas into the sky—a volume slightly higher than human industrial activity today produces in the course of a year, says Anja Schmidt, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.