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Volcanic eruptions

The risk

There are a number of volcanoes across Europe that could affect the UK, with volcanoes in Iceland of most concern because they are close to the UK, erupt frequently and, due to prevailing winds, are more likely to blow ash and gas towards us.  

Consequences of volcanic eruptions may include:  

  • casualties (from poor air quality)  
  • disruption to essential services, particularly transport 
  • economic damage as disruption to air travel affects business and tourism  
  • environmental contamination, particularly to water and agriculture  

Volcanic eruption can potentially lead to long periods of air pollution affecting people’s health, particularly if they suffer from existing respiratory conditions. These incidents can also have a damaging effect on crops.  

Has it happened before?

Yes! In April 2010, a relatively small explosive eruption of a vulcano in Iceland coincided with north-westerly winds, resulting in disruption to air travel across much of the UK and Northern Europe for six days.   

Between1783–84, there was an effusive eruption of another volcano in Iceland resulting in the release of significant levels of sulphur dioxide, chlorine and fluorine over several months. This caused visible pollution (in the form of a ‘dry fog’) across the UK and Northern Europe, mass crop failure and thousands of deaths. 

More information about the risk of volcanic eruption and what is being done about the risk, can be found on p37 of the National Risk Register.  

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