Icelandic Volcano Threatening Travel for Penn State-UCF

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Update 8/28: An eruption started at the Bardarbunga volcano today, according to the Icelandic Met Office. The aviation flight code is back up to red.

Again, this isn’t cause to freak out right now. Penn State is already in Ireland, travel conditions over most parts of Iceland are normal, and no one is currently in danger, according to experts who are tweeting:

If the eruption continues to develop, it could cause some issues for Penn State getting back home. If you want to watch the volcano yourself, click here.

Update 8/24: Good news from Iceland today, as the aviation threat level for the volcano is back down to orange from red and there are no signs of an imminent eruption, according to the Icelandic Met Office. This follows news that  yesterday’s report of a subglacial eruption was incorrectAlong with the lowered aviation threat level, the no-flight restrictions that were in place yesterday have been lifted.

Seismic activity is still taking place, though — two earthquakes with a magnitude of at least 5 were recorded last night. As always, we’ll continue to update the situation.

Update, 8/23: Penn State athletics released an official statement on the volcano Saturday afternoon:

Over the past several days we have been talking with officials from UCF, the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) and United Airlines, our charter provider. We continue to monitor the situation and maintain regular communication with all appropriate parties.

The safety and welfare of our student-athletes, staff and fans will be at the forefront throughout our discussions. At this time, we are continuing our preparations for the game and for the team to depart Tuesday evening for Dublin. 

According to the AP, Iceland has raised the aviation warning level from orange to red, meaning that there’s a chance of “significant emission of ash into the atmosphere” if the volcano erupts. A subglacial eruption is happening now at the Bardarbunga volcano, and the lava is beginning to melt the ice around the glaciers near the volcano. According to seismic data collected by the Iceland’s Meteorological Offices, it isn’t clear if the lava will melt through the ice completely and send ash into the air.

Update, 8/21: The aviation threat level remains at orange Thursday, but there is “no evidence to suggest an eruption is imminent,” according to the Icelandic Met Office. Still, there are also no signs to indicate that seismic activity is decreasing.

From the Met’s website:

There are no measurements to suggest that an eruption is imminent. Previous intrusion events in Iceland have lasted for several days or weeks, often not resulting in an eruption. However an eruption of Bárðarbunga cannot presently be excluded, hence the intense monitoring and preparation efforts. The ongoing monitoring and assessment effort is necessary in case a volcanic eruption occurs. Hazards in the event of an eruption are being assessed, including a glacial outburst flood and dispersal of volcanic ash. Additional seismic, GPS and hydrological stations have been installed in the Bárðarbunga region. Likewise, mobile radars capable of monitoring ash dispersal have been moved to the region. The aviation colour-code for the Bárðarbunga volcano remains unchanged at ‘orange’, signifying that the volcano is exhibiting heightened levels of unrest.

PennLive reported that both UCF and Penn State officials are aware of the situation.

“Yes, we’re aware of that, we’re monitoring that situation,” Penn State director of football operations Michael Hazel told PennLive. “Really, we have to lean on United Airlines (PSU’s airline for the game) and the folks that are handling our cargo as it relates to that. That’s kind of out of our area of expertise. It’s important for us to be aware of it but then we’ll lean on other experts as it relates to that type of stuff.”

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The Icelandic volcano Bardarbunga could become quite a problem for Penn State and UCF as they prepare for their season opener on August 30 in Dublin.

Icelandic officials recently raised their aviation threat level to orange, their fourth-highest threat level of five, due to “intense seismic activity” in the area near the volcano. The reason an eruption would be so problematic? When another Icelandic volcano blew in May 2011, it resulted in the cancellation of about 100,000 European flights. Ash can fly so high up in the air after an eruption that flights are stymied — if a plane runs into enough ash, it can infect its engines and render them useless. Iceland and Ireland are almost 900 miles away from one another, but the last cloud closed most of the European airspace.

Iceland has already evacuated the northern area of the country near the volcano, which hasn’t erupted since 1996. That year is also the last time the volcano range has seen such intense earthquake activity. Penn State is planning to leave Tuesday evening for a Wednesday arrival in Ireland, according to the Centre Daily Times.

Now, this isn’t cause for mass panic currently, as Penn State geosciences professor Dr. Kevin Furlong explains.

“Basically, the warning level goes up and down depending on the other activity,” Furlong said on the earthquakes. “For Iceland, the main thing they are monitoring is the small earthquakes. They’re very small, but the instruments pick them up. If they increase, the level of warning could increase, but if they stop, the level goes down.”

It’s quite common for earthquakes to raise warning levels of the many Icelandic volcanoes and result in no eruptions, Furlong said. And even if this volcano does erupt, it’s not a guarantee that flights would need to be canceled — that all depends on how high the ash gets. Furlong said there really isn’t much telling how long this threat could be in place due to the unpredictable nature of the seismic activity.

Penn State couldn’t be reached for comment, but CDT football writer Travis Johnson tweeted some more information:

If you want to take a look at the trouble area, there are some webcams trained on the glacier where the volcano is located. Here is a summary of the seismic activity in the area.

Preparing to get a football team overseas is difficult enough without having to worry about, you know, a volcano erupting. Nothing official, but we can surmise that the game would either be canceled entirely or played in the States if this volcano should erupt. We’ll keep you updated as this situation unfolds.

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Tim Gilbert

Runs this website from the Phyrst’s Table 69. Senior from Philadelphia. First-generation Penn Stater. I might go to law school after this, but I might not, too. “For the Glory” is in my email signature because I’m a douche. [email protected] is my email if you want to tell me why I suck.

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