Rumbling again, Iceland's volcano throws up more black smoke against the amazing backdrop of Northern Lights
By MAIL FOREIGN SERVICE
Last updated at 11:16 AM on 23rd April 2010
These stunning pictures show the heavenly phenomenon of green aurora ripples above Eyjafjallajokull's fire fountains.
The volcano that has caused so much havoc for air traffic in Britain and Europe, appeared humbled for the first time by the sky's cascading beams of llight.
Only yesterday there were white fluffy clouds rising above Eyjafjallajokull - but these latest images suggest it's back to shooting thick black smoke.
The volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier was spewing far less ash yesterday, and the black plume of smoke was low, but a change of wind direction meant the north Atlantic island's main airports were now set to close for the first time.
It remains very much active and has been throwing magma chunks the size of cars into the air, bubbling lava and producing tremors.
Huge ash clouds from the volcano last week led to European air traffic being grounded. Most flights have resumed, but, in a twist of fate, Iceland itself was set to be hit after managing to stay open during the worst of the chaos elsewhere.
As huge clouds of smoke continued to pump into the air, water gushed down the side of the glacier.
Seismologist Bryndis Brandsdottir said the tremors could indicate a build up of lava, or molten rock, within the crater.
'The lava cannot really go anywhere. It is not flowing out of the crater, it must be accumulating there,' she said.
The volcano has now simmered to 80 per cent of its intensity, but scientists are warning that earth tremors could cause an even larger eruption at a neighbouring crater.
An eruption at the Katla volcano would be ten times stronger and shoot higher and larger plumes of ash into the air than its smaller neighbour.
The two volcanoes are side by side in southern Iceland, about 12 miles apart, and thought to be connected by a network of magma channels.
Katla is buried under one of Iceland's largest glaciers, the Myrdalsjokull, which is 500m deep.
This means it has more than twice the amount of ice than the current eruption has burned through, threatening a new and possibly longer aviation standstill across Europe.
Katla showed no signs of activity yesterday, according to scientists who monitor it with seismic sensors, but they were still wary.
The last three times that Eyjafjallajokull went off, Katla did as well. Katla typically awakens every 80 years or so. It last exploded in 1918.
Aviation authorities remain deeply divided about the proper response to a massive eruption. Many now say the decision to ground flights was an overreaction. Blanket closure of airspace led to the cancellation of more than 100,000 flights.
European governments and civil aviation authorities have defended their decision to ground fleets and close the skies against heated accusations by airline chiefs that the moves were based on flawed data or unsubstantiated fears.
The European Union has already moved urgently to implement a major reform of the continental air traffic management system, whose fragmentation has been blamed for the uncoordinated response to the ash cloud.
EU spokeswoman Helen Kearns said Thursday the crisis had exposed serious flaws that must be corrected quickly. 'Consumers and businesses have paid a high price over the past few days for a fragmented patchwork of airspaces,' she said.
The EU has 27 national air traffic control networks, 60 air traffic centers and hundreds of approach centers and towers. The airspace is a jigsaw puzzle of more than 650 sectors, and any real streamlining of the system will require at least another five to ten years.
Still, most analysts said they expected the aftershocks to subside gradually, as they did in the United States after 9/11.
'Inevitably, when people make a decision and the events of the past week are fresh in their minds, they may think twice about flying and may opt to take the train rather than fly,' said Richard Maslen of Airliner World, a British industry publication.
'That's what happened after 9/11. But I can't see it as being a problem in the long-term because people will just not want to give up the mobility that flying affords.'
The Northern Lights natural phenomenon, called aurora borealis, is created by the sun's super hot atmosphere, which blasts particles into the protective magnetic field surrounding the Earth.
The magnetic field forces the particles toward the north and south poles.
About 60 to 200 miles overhead, the particles bump into the Earth's atmosphere and become electrically 'excited' - throwing off light of various colours.
Although the phenomenon occurs around the clock, the lights are only visible at night.
The best time of year to see them is during winter, when darkness in the upper latitudes stretches up to 24 hours.