The Grimsvotn volcano burst into life on Saturday, with dark plumes of smoke shooting 20 km (12 miles) into the sky.
Forming a bubbling mass which seeped above the clouds high over the North Atlantic island.
An eruption by Iceland’s most active volcano put Europe on high alert on Monday as a billowing ash cloud drifted toward Scotland and threatened to shut down airports across the northern edge of the continent.
Northern Europe looked set to be affected first, even though experts saw little chance of a repeat of last year’s six-day travel chaos caused by the eruption of another Icelandic volcano which left thousands of people stranded across the region.
“It’s too early to tell if Europe will be affected. What’s certain is that when it is affected, there will be flight cancellations,” French Transport Minister Thierry Marianai told Europe 1radio.
Ash from the volcano could touch northwest Scotland as early as Monday evening, an Icelandic Met Official said.
Europe’s air traffic control organization has said that if volcanic emissions continued at the same rate then the cloud might reach west French airspace and north Spain on Thursday.
The agency, which set up a crisis unit after bad coordination was blamed for worsening last year’s crisis, said no closures outside Iceland were expected on Monday or Tuesday. Airlines as far away as Australia were monitoring the situation.
Any decisions for other countries on flying restrictions will depend on wind direction and whether aviation authorities think the ash is a danger to engines.
Last year, airspace had to be closed due to worries that particles could get into aircraft engines and cause accidents. Some airlines complained that authorities had been excessively cautious in imposing blanket closures last year.
Norway’s civil aviation body said the one or two flights a day to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard would shut tonight, and other countries were also preparing for the worst.
Iceland’s aviation authority said however it hoped it might be able to re-open the island’s main airport by the evening as the tower of smoke above the volcano appeared to have fallen slightly by Monday morning.
The Icelandic met office said the plume of smoke and ash which is billowing out of Grimsvotn, which last exploded in 2004, had fallen to just below 10 km (6 miles), well below its maximum so far of 25 km.
Icelandic met office forecaster Teitur Arason said current wind conditions were spreading the ashes in separate directions.
“The winds high in the air, above 25,000 feet or thereabout, are southeasterly, so that ash is blown to the north and then later to the east,” he said. “But at lower levels, the winds are northerly and therefore those ashes are blowing southward.”
AIRLINE SHARES FALL
Last year, a pervasive and slow-moving cloud of ash from another volcano in Iceland forced a six-day shutdown of European airspace, stranded tens of thousands of people and damaged industries and economies.
On Monday, airline stocks fell as carriers braced for possible disruption with losses in heavyweights such as Lufthansa, Air France and Scandinavian SAS leading the European travel and leisure index down 1.8 percent.
So far Iceland, particularly the towns and villages to the south and east of the Grimsvotn volcano, has suffered most. The volcano lies under the Vatnajokull glacier in southeast Iceland, the largest glacier in Europe.
Day turned into night when a thick cloud of ash descended on the area, smothering cars and buildings. The eruption was much stronger than the one at last year’s volcano.
“It could lead to some disruption, but only for a very limited time and only over a very limited area,” said University of Iceland Professor of Geophysics Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson.
“We see some signs that the (eruption’s) power is declining a bit, but it is still quite powerful,” he said, adding that the eruption was the most violent at the volcano since 1873.
Gudmundsson and other vulcanologists said the impact on air travel this time would be more limited as winds were more favorable, the plume’s content was heavier and less likely to spread and authorities had a higher tolerance for ash levels.