Volcanic Gases Cause Haze and Breathing Issues

Reykjanes Eruption

Gases from the ongoing eruption on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula may lead to fewer sunny days this summer, Vísir reports. Eruption gases have been creating a haze in the capital area in recent days and causing discomfort for people with asthma or other lung conditions. Air quality specialist Þorsteinn Jóhannsson says locals should get into the habit of monitoring air quality in their surroundings.

Though weather has been sunny in the capital area recently, lately the sunshine has been obscured by a mist known as volcanic haze. “Volcanic haze is not the usual ash plume that comes directly from the eruption, which is primarily sulphur dioxide. It can be an old or developed plume that has been floating around for 3-4 days just off the coast and then comes onto land again and then it’s been turned into sulphur particulate matter. That refracts light so it is seen as a haze,” Þorsteinn explains.

According to Þorsteinn, volcanic haze is more common on warm, sunny days and can also boost the formation of regular fog. Though the eruption is on Iceland’s southwest tip, the haze can travel anywhere in the country, such as Akureyri, North Iceland, where it was observed some weeks ago.

Volcanologists have stated the Reykjanes eruption could last years or even decades. “If this eruption persists, we need to put ourselves in eruption air quality gear and keep a close eye on it,” Þorsteinn says. “One can’t recommend running a long race in heavy pollution, it’s usually possible to go between houses, but sensitive people should avoid being outdoors if there is a lot of volcanic haze.”

Air quality in Iceland can be monitored on loftgaedi.is.

Stricter Regulations on Marine Fuel Proposed

overfishing iceland

The Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources has published an amended draft to the current regulations on the Sulphur content of liquid fuels. RÚV reports that if these amendments are adopted, the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) would be prohibited within Icelandic territorial waters starting at the beginning of next year.

Heavy Fuel Oil is “the generic term [that] describes fuels used to generate motion and/or fuels to generate heat that have a particularly high viscosity and density.” HFOs “are mainly used as marine fuel, and HFO is the most widely used marine fuel at this time; virtually all medium and low-speed marine diesel engines are designed for heavy fuel oil.”

About 22% of the marine fuel sold in Iceland in 2016 was HFO; it is used by some Icelandic fishing vessels. There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the pollution from cruise ships, which run on HFO, and according to current Icelandic law, the use of such fuel is prohibited when a cruise ship is docked at an Icelandic port.

The current law, which went into effect in 2015, allows for the Sulphur content in marine fuel used within Icelandic territorial waters to be up to 3.5%. If the amendments go into effect, this percentage would go down to .1%. This is lower than the updated Sulphur pollution regulations that are outlined in the revised International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships agreement, or MARPOL Annex VI. Per the revised regulations, which go into effect on January 1, 2020, cosignatories to the agreement, including Iceland, will not be allowed to use marine fuel that has a Sulphur content that is higher than .5%.

If Iceland puts a stricter Sulphur content limit in place, ships using a higher percentage fuel would need to employ approved methods of reducing their Sulphur Dioxide emissions while within Icelandic territorial waters. A .1% Sulphur limit would, however, be in accordance with restrictions already in place in the so-called ECA areas in the Baltic and North Seas.