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Iceland Katla volcano emits up to 24,000 tons of CO2 per day, may be about to blow (Or Not)

Either Katla in Iceland is about to blow or it isn’t.  It is a subglacial volcano giving off five to ten times more CO2 than vulcanologists expected. This has some experts spooked, though others are saying it’s not that unusual.

UPDATE: The lead researcher herself adds that her work does not suggest an eruption is imminent, nor that it would be like the theEyjafjallajokull eruption in any case. h/t Pat for the new take. Apparently The Sunday Times has been exaggerating… “Ilyinskaya tweeted that she has previously told the Sunday Times that “the severity of Eyjafjallajökull air traffic disruption was very unusual and unlikely to happen if Katla erupts, and still, they quote me as saying exactly the opposite!”

Katla volcano set to erupt, Patrick Knox, The Sun

Katla Volcano, Iceland, 1918, photo.

Katla Volcano, Iceland, 1918

Icelandic and British volcanologists have detected Katla— Icelandic for “kettle” or “boiler” — is emitting carbon dioxide on a huge scale which suggests magma chambers are filling up fast.

According to the Sunday Times, the scientists believe it could be an indicator that an eruption could be brewing which would overshadow the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010.

The emissions are in the order of 12 to 24 kilotons a day which means 4 to 8 megatons a year.  That’s the same output as an extra 1 – 2 million cars on the road each year.


UPDATE #2 from TonyfromOz This volcano is equivalent to 50 new coal plants!

A new UltraSuperCritical coal fired power plant (a HELE plant) with two 1200MW units (so, a Nameplate of 2400MW) will emit around 12 million tonnes of CO2 each year, so taking that upper limit for Volcanic CO2 emissions of 600 Million tonnes per year, then the volcanic emissions alone equal around FIFTY of those plants each year.

Shutting down one coal fired power plant is akin to a [email protected] in a cyclone.



Ilyinskaya et al, Geophysical Resarch Letters

We discovered that Katla volcano in Iceland is a globally important source of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in spite of being previously assumed to be a minor gas emitter. Volcanoes are a key natural source of atmospheric CO2 but estimates of the total global amount of CO2 that volcanoes emit are based on only a small number of active volcanoes. Very few volcanoes which are covered by glacial ice have been measured for gas emissions, probably because they tend to be difficult to access and often do not have obvious degassing vents. Through high‐precision airborne measurements and atmospheric dispersion modelling, we show that Katla, a highly hazardous subglacial volcano which last erupted 100 years ago, is one of the largest volcanic sources of CO2 on Earth, releasing up to 5% of total global volcanic emissions. This is significant in a context of a growing awareness that natural CO2 sources have to be more accurately quantified in climate assessments and we recommend urgent investigations of other subglacial volcanoes world‐wide.

 This is just one volcano of thousands

Katla is one of the largest volcanic sources of CO2 on the planet, contributing up to 4% of global emissions from non‐erupting volcanoes.

I wondered how much CO2 volcanoes give off in the big scheme (doesn’t everyone?). But total estimates of emissions of CO2 from volcanoes vary a lot: The United States Geological Survey (USGS), estimates 200 million tons, the British Geological Survey estimates volcanoes emit 300 million tonnes CO2and Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology estimates 600 million tons.

For perspective, if those numbers are remotely correct, then that’s about the same as Australia’s total emissions per annum (which means “not much”.) Total human emissions globally are around 10 Gigatons per annum.


Take it with a grain of basalt

No one really knows how much CO2 is coming off each volcano, or even how many volcanoes there are, or if the gas is sneaking out in fields and valleys round the back:

Volcanic CO2 levels are staggering

Robin Wylie, Livescience, Oct 2017

In 1992, it was thought that volcanic degassing released something like 100 million tons of COeach year. Around the turn of the millennium, this figure was getting closer to 200. The most recent estimate, released this February, comes from a team led by Mike Burton, of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology – and it’s just shy of 600 million tons. It caps a staggering trend: A six-fold increase in just two decades.

The silent, silvery plumes which are currently winding their way skyward above the 150 or so active volcanoes on our planet also carry with them the bulk of its carbon dioxide. Their coughing fits might catch the eye — but in between tantrums, the steady breathing of volcanoes quietly sheds upwards of a quarter of a billion tons of CO2every year.

We think. Scientists’ best estimates, however, are based on an assumption. It might surprise you to learn that, well into the new century, of the 150 smokers I mentioned, almost 80 percent are still as mysterious, in terms of the quantity of CO2 they emit, as they were a generation ago: We’ve only actually measured 33.

Then there is invisible CO2 and no one has any idea

When volcanoes outgas CO2 they usually give off steam which helps everyone spot that something is going on, but what if colorless and odorless CO2 is just oozing quietly through whole valleys and hillsides. Robin Wylie again:

Without the water, though, it’s a different story. The new poster-child of planetary degassing is diffuse CO2 — invisible emanations which can occur across vast areas surrounding the main vents of a volcano, rising through the bulk of the mountains.

… we have very little idea of how much it might contribute…

What we don’t know about volcanoes? — Hilliers in  2007 estimated about 40,000 underwater volcanoes.

Despite volcanoes being a lot bigger than spotted quolls, we still can’t even count them.

People are constantly discovering new volcanoes, like a 3,000m one off Indonesia that no one realized was there til 2010. It turns out the second largest volcano in the solar system is apparently not on Io, but 1,000 miles east of Japan. It’s the size of the British Isles, but who knew? A few months ago a team found 91 new volcanoes under Antarctica.

…we know more about the moon than the bottom of the Mariana, and it’s only 11km “away”.

Climate scientists must be hoping for a decent eruption. When the Earth doesn’t warm as predicted one good volcano could provide great cover for failing models. Look for the Blame the Volcano Game, coming to your public broadcaster soon.

With the imminent explosion, as Mother Earth fights back at Tim Blairs blog where rhhardin says —  Look for MAGMA hat sales.
Magma chambers now filling up fast,
Means Katla could any day blast,
What volcanoes can spew,
Mixed with much CO2,
In volumes exceedingly vast.


Ilyinskaya et al, (2018) Globally significant CO2 emissions from Katla, a subglacial volcano in Iceland, Geophysical Research Letters, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018GL079096

Hillier, J. K., and A. B. Watts (2007), Global distribution of seamounts from ship-track bathymetry data, Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L13304, doi:10.1029/2007GL029874.

Estimates of car average output per year. 4.6 metric tons per annum.  US EPA

Image: Wikimedia by RicHard-59

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