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Iceland Mag

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Deadly gas emissions at the Holuhraun eruption site forcing scientists to escape

By Staff

  • Gas emissions The distance between the Holuhraun eruption and Reyðarfjörður town is about 130 km (81 mi). Sulfur dioxide concentrations in the town suggest that people with underlying respiratory problems might be affected. Screenshot: Google Maps

Due to dangerous levels of gas emissions, scientists have been forced to evacuate the Holuhraun area several times since the eruption began. According to the Icelandic Met Office (IMO), local gas concentrations can be life threatening and people at the eruption site are encouraged to wear gas masks and use gas meters at all time.

As reported by IMO, local wind anomalies can occur at the eruption site due to thermal convection from the hot lava. This makes the conditions extremely dangerous as winds can change direction suddenly and unpredictably. 

The eruption has released a high emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) which is a toxic gas with a pungent, irritating, and rotten smell. It is a major air pollutant and in general up to 99% of the sulfur dioxide in air comes from human sources. The main source is industrial activity that burns fossil fuels and is present in motor vehicle emissions.

Inhaling sulfur dioxide is associated with increased respiratory symptoms and diseases. Measurements in East Iceland show higher concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the air in inhabited areas. IMO reports that sulfur dioxide concentrations in Reyðarfjörður town suggest that people with underlying respiratory problems might be affected, although others should not experience any discomfort.

The Environment Agency of Iceland has increased gas monitoring in inhabited areas in East Iceland.

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