April 18, 2010 / 11:15 AM / in 8 years

Volcanic ash relentless as new tremors rock Iceland

REYKJAVIK, April 18 (Reuters) - Powerful tremors from an Icelandic volcano that has been a menace for thousands of travellers worldwide rocked the countryside on Sunday as eruptions hurled a steady stream of ash into the sky.

Ash from the volcano drifted southeast towards Europe, sparing the capital Reykjavik and other more populated centres but forcing farmers and their livestock indoors as a blanket of ash fell on the surrounding areas.

Iceland’s Meterological Office said tremors from the volcano had grown more intense and had increased from a day ago, but that the column of steam and ash rising from the volcano had eased back to 4-5 km (2.5-3 miles) from as high as 11 km when it started erupting earlier this week.

“We are seeing mixed signals. There are some hints that the eruption will be decreasing, and others that show it is not decreasing,” Einar Kjartansson, a geophysicist at the Meteorological Office, told Reuters.

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One positive sign for people in the area is that there was no immediate threat of further flooding.

The eruption is taking place under Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier, normally a popular hiking ground about 120 km (75 miles) southeast of the capital Reykjavik.

Kjartansson believes the volcano has melted about 10 percent of the glacier, but melting might have slowed in recent hours.

However, that does not mean Europe will see great relief from the plume of ash that is choking the upper atmosphere with tiny particles of glass and pulverised rock, threatening jet engines and airframes.

The glacier on top of the volcano is about 200 metres (650 ft) thick -- thinner than many glaciers atop other volcanoes that have erupted in recent times. That means there is less ice, and water, to suffocate the eruptions and resulting steam.

“It might mean more intense ash production,” Kjartansson said.

It still could take months for the volcano to burn through the rest of the glacier, to a point where the steam and ash would turn instead into lava, he said.

DAY TURNS TO NIGHT Vidir Reynisson, of the Civil Protection Department, said some areas near the volcano were pitchblack during daylight hours.

“There are places where you can’t even see the palm of your hand,” he said.

His department has recommended people stay indoors, although some have evacuated voluntarily. They also advise people to keep their houses heated, which helps keep the ash outside.

Many farmers, he said, remained to tend their livestock and some, assisted by rescue squads, were on rooftops sweeping off the accumulated ash to prevent roofs from caving in.

Meanwhile, travellers stranded in Iceland due to limited flights out of the international Keflavik airport started to get approval on travel to northern Norway. Flights to the United States remained unaffected.

Iceland sits on a volcanic hotspot in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and has relatively frequent eruptions, though most occur in sparsely populated areas and pose little danger to people or property. The last eruption took place in 2004.

Additional reporting and writing by Mia Shanley in Stockholm, editing by Michael Roddy

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