Glaciologist Helgi Björnsson believes it will take Eyjafjallajökull glacier a long time to recover from the current volcanic eruption. He said it might speed up the glacial melt due to a warming climate and cause it to disappear more quickly.
The eruption in Eyjafjallajökull. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.
Björnsson told Morgunbladid that the eruption has caused extensive damage to the glacier already. For example, the glacial tongue Gígjökull has retreated from the lagoon it had extended into and up into the slopes.
“It is a so-called melt area. More ice is melting than what can be accumulated each year. What has saved the tongue until now is the ice that is being transferred from above,” Björnsson explained. “If there is little ice in the collecting area—and it takes a few decades for it to accumulate there—the lower part continues to shrink.”
Björnsson points out that the tail of Gígjökull decreased by up to eight meters per year before the eruption because relocation of ice from the main glacier wasn’t sufficient to make up for the loss.
“Now the outlook is even bleaker. When we take the principle, so to speak, it takes the glacier ten to 20 years to recover at an unchanged climate,” Björnsson said. The glaciologist believes it can take decades to fill up the hole created by the crater.
What saved Eyjafjallajökull after the 1821-1823 eruption was an accumulation of snow during the “Little Ice Age.”
Our special offer for the Iceland Review magazine with eruption photos and coverage.