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Icelandic volcano erupts again

Concern that last year's European airspace shutdown may be repeated.
Grimsvoetn erupts again (STR/AFP/Getty).
Grimsvoetn erupts again (STR/AFP/Getty).

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Iceland has closed its main international airport and cancelled all domestic flights after a powerful volcanic eruption forced a cloud of ash, smoke and steam 20km into the atmosphere on Sunday.

The eruption also forced international flights to be diverted around the country as a no-fly zone covering a 200km radius around the volcano was put in place.

The eruption started at around 6pm on Sunday in a crater underneath the Vatnajokull Glacier, about 145km southeast of Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik. Several volcanoes lie under the glacial icecap in the highlands of Iceland, including the Grimsvotn volcano, which is one of the more active. It last erupted in 2004, but has a long history of frequent outbursts.

Scientists have been monitoring activity at the site for the past few months. In October, they recorded tremors around the site which hinted at a possible eruption. Then, in November meltwater from the Vatnajokull Glacier started flowing in to the lakes that lie above the Grimsvotn volcano, suggested that an eruption may be imminent.

An eruption in Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull in April of last year grounded 100,000 flights in the first six days, costing airlines $1.7bn in lost sales, according to industry figures.

Further bursts of ash closed airspace across a wide area of Europe, raising concern that the event might mirror the last one in 1821, when the crater remained active for more than a year.

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