Scientists Monitor Iceland Volcano In addition to disrupting air travel, the eruption of a volcano is causing flooding and wreaking havoc in Iceland. NPR's Joe Palca talks with Robert Siegel about what scientists think will happen with the volcano, but the truth is they don't really know.
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Scientists Monitor Iceland Volcano

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Scientists Monitor Iceland Volcano

Scientists Monitor Iceland Volcano

Scientists Monitor Iceland Volcano

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In addition to disrupting air travel, the eruption of a volcano is causing flooding and wreaking havoc in Iceland. NPR's Joe Palca talks with Robert Siegel about what scientists think will happen with the volcano, but the truth is they don't really know.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

NPR science correspondent Joe Palca is in Reykjavik and joins us now. And first, Joe, what's the evidence that things are quieting down with this volcano?

JOE PALCA: And now, the earth is moving back closer together so that makes it seem like what was in the volcano is largely spewed out of the volcano. That doesn't mean there's not some deep stuff that's still going to erupt, but the top stuff seems to have come out or largely come out.

SIEGEL: And what's the latest on the direction of the ash plume?

PALCA: Well, I just came back from the Icelandic Meteorological Office and they tell me there that the wind is turning is slightly coming from the north, which means that instead of pointing directly at Northern Europe, it's pointing a little bit more toward the south. But what's going to happen is it's going to go south and then it's going to turn east. And so, it's still going to cause a problem over much of northern Europe and Europe in general.

SIEGEL: Joe, I want you to explain the link between the volcano and the problem of flooding in Iceland.

PALCA: Well, the flooding is because on top of this volcano there is a sheet of ice. What happens is when the volcano erupts, it pokes a hole on the ice. Well, if it just did that and poked a hole straight up, that would be one thing. But what happens is it tends to form a little fissure, and the fissure goes downhill and then water starts filling into this fissure. And then the water in the fissure starts cascading downhill. And when it gets to the end of the glacier, it starts going over the land with incredible force. And if that happens, then whoever is in the path of that water is going to get flattened.

SIEGEL: Now, predicting the behavior of the volcano is a very uncertain business. What are scientists there going to be doing to monitor it at this point?

PALCA: So it's - they're going to be tiptoeing a little bit closer over the next couple of days in addition to the remote sensing which is, by far, the safer way to watch a volcano.

SIEGEL: Okay, Joe. And we've danced around this long enough. How do you say the name of the volcano in Iceland?

PALCA: Well, I've been practicing, but I don't think I quite have it. I've been trying to say, it's Eyjafjallajokull, but why don't we let an expert do it.

KRISTIN WAULKVORT: Eyjafjallajokull.

PALCA: Well, it isn't too bad. That was Kristin Waulkvort(ph), although I don't know if I've done that right either.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WAULKVORT: Kristin Waulkvort.

PALCA: Okay. So my Icelandic accent is getting a little better right, I think.

SIEGEL: That's easy for her to say.

PALCA: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Joe Palca in Reykjavik, thank you very much for talking with us.

PALCA: You've very welcome.

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