Iceland Going For Trifecta As "Gateway To Hell" Volcano Prepares To Blow

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Last year's Eyjafjoell and the recent Grimsvotn eruptions will have been a walk in the pyroclastic park if, as AFP reports, the most feared of all Iceland volcanoes, Hekla, is indeed about to blow. "Experts say one of Iceland's most feared volcanoes looks ready to erupt, with measurements indicating magma movement, raising fears of a new ash cloud halting flights over Europe. The Iceland Civil Protection Authority says it is closely monitoring the situation. "The movements around Hekla have been unusual in the last two to three days," University of Iceland geophysicist Pall Einarsson said." Hekla's eruption would certainly have far more dire consequences on European airspace than Grimsvotn, which merely succeeded in getting Obama to vacate Ireland sooner than expected: "The volcano, dubbed by Icelanders in the Middle Ages as the "Gateway to Hell," is one of Iceland's most active, having erupted some 20 times over the past millennium, most recently on February 26, 2000. Over the past 50 years, Hekla has gone off about once a decade." And so Europe, once again caught in the maelstrom of a sovereign debt crunch, will be sensitive to headline risk, as the last thing the continent which is now doing all it can to ostracize rating agencies, as if its insolvency is their fault, is a continent-wide grounding of all flights.

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The news of a possible imminent eruption comes just over a month after this year's violent eruption at the Grimsvoetn volcano, in the south-east of the country.

That eruption subsided after less than a week, having spit out far more ash than Eyjafjoell, but due to more favourable winds for Europe caused far less air traffic disruption.

Mr Gudmundsson says the volcano tends to "produce both ash and lava within the first seconds of an eruption".

He says lava eruptions are far less disruptive to air travel.

"If the next eruption is of the same character [as the previous ones] it is unlikely that it will have any effects on flights in Europe," he said.

"But of course this depends on the size of the eruption, which is something that is impossible to predict."

Both of Iceland's latest eruptions provided warning signs several hours before, but Hekla is known for having a very short fuse.

"Hekla never gives you much of a warning," Mr Einarsson said.

He says in 2000, it began rumbling an hour-and-a-half before the outbreak of magma, which "was actually an unusually long warning".

"In 1970 we only got 25 minutes notice," he said.

After Iceland's last two eruptions, geologists have warned that the country's volcanoes appeared to have entered a more active phase and that more eruptions could be expected, with Hekla believed to be first in line.