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This Volcano Spewed More Toxic Gas than European Industrial Sector

posted: 09/25/15
by: Danny Clemens
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A record-shattering volcanic eruption sent more toxic sulfur dioxide gas into the atmosphere than all of European manufacturing and industry combined, a new study reveals.

The autumn 2014 eruption of Iceland's Bardarbunga stratovolcano was the island's largest volcanic event in centuries, sending massive amounts of lava flowing across northern Iceland and generating a sulfur dioxide plume that was detected as far away as Norway.

"The eruption discharged lava at a rate of more than 200 cubic metres per second, which is equivalent to filling five Olympic-sized swimming pools in a minute. Six months later, when the eruption ended, it had produced enough lava to cover an area the size of Manhattan," explains study lead author Dr. Anja Schmidt of the University of Leeds.

Bardarbunga eruption in 2014
BERNARD MERIC/AFP/Getty Images

"In the study, we were concerned with the quantity of sulfur dioxide emissions, with numbers that are equally astonishing: In the beginning, the eruption emitted about eight times more sulfur dioxide per day than is emitted from all man-made sources in Europe per day."

High levels of sulfur dioxide in the environment can contribute to acid rain. When humans come into contact with the gas, it can cause inflammation of the respiratory system and irritation of skin, nose and eyes, the National Parks Service warns. Sulfur dioxide can also aggravate asthma and heart disease.

In the industrial sector, the gas is produced during fossil fuel combustion and metal smelting, although production has fallen steadily since the 1990s.

Schmidt's research is published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

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