In 2014, the six-month eruption of Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano disgorged enough lava to cover a Manhattan-sized area.
Research proved the volcano emitted three times more toxic gas than all man-made sources in Europe combined. On certain days, the volcanic giant vomited a staggering 120,000 tons of toxic gases.
"This was a truly spectacular eruption—the biggest in Iceland for more than 200 years," research author Anja Schmidt, from the University of Leeds, said. Schmidt added that the eruption released large amounts of sulphur dioxide, a toxic gas, in the air.
The volcanic eruption started in August 2014 and lasted until February this year. The amount of sulphur dioxide emitted into the atmosphere was so toxic that Icelandic authorities advised people to stay indoors. Schools were closed, and outdoor games and events were canceled.
The Icelandic authorities' responsive actions were not just precautionary measures. Acid rain can melt limestone buildings and destroy crops and livestock. High amounts of toxic gases in the atmosphere can aggravate asthma symptoms and affect climate change.
Scientists fear an even bigger eruption is coming. John Stevenson from the University of Edinburgh believes that the Bardarbunga volcano will experience a more intense volcanic activity in the next 20 years.
"For the next two decades we'll be in the peak of Icelandic rifting period," Stevenson explained. He warns that Iceland will witness more eruptions during this period, which happens every 140 years.
Researchers from the University of Leeds and University of Edinburg teamed up to monitor Bardarbunga's toxic gas volume and flow. Precautionary measures are expected to be made to avoid the brutal consequences of the 1783 eruption of Laki volcano in Iceland. The eruption was 10 times more violent than the recent Bardarbunga eruption, killing livestock and causing widespread famine, Stevenson said.
People should fear toxic gases more than they do red hot lava. Toxic gas particles can travel long distances in the air. It can affect air quality in northern Europe and the UK. An estimated 100,000 people in the UK could die of air pollution if an explosion the scale of the 1783 eruption were to occur.
The widespread effect of toxic gas flow is hard to monitor, said researchers. There were no tracking systems available during the recent Bardarbunga eruption. With the help of the national weather service UK Met Office, the research team is optimistic that the newly built model will help track the flow of toxic gas.
The team will make use of computer modelling and satellite data to map out the toxic gas flow. This is beneficial in potential evacuation and precautionary measures.