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Iceland Eruption Continues, Spreads Toxic Fumes

Sep 12, 2014 12:31 PM EDT

Another eruption surge on Iceland seems likely to occur as toxic fumes continue to spread across the country and into new regions.

The eruption of Iceland's Bárðarbunga volcano officially began Aug. 31 and has continued to intermittently spew lava since then. The eruption, which officials had initially thought would cause flooding and put significant ash into the air, has remained relatively tame, with even commercial pilots taking detours just to give their passengers a special view of the natural event.

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While the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) had initially declared airspace over the volcano as a no-fly zone when the volcano first erupted, it was quickly determined that the resulting steam and smoke was no threat to aircraft. The aviation warning was rescinded, dropping back down to a Code Orange.

However, while the skies may be safe, the air isn't exactly clear. The IMO is warning that heavy levels of naturally-occurring toxic gases, like sulfur dioxide, are seeping out of the eruption site, the long volcanic fissure slightly north of the Dyngjujökull glacier's ice-margin in the Holuhraun lava field.

"It smelled like old redfish," local 68-year-old Unni Johansen told the Wall Street Journal.

Young children (whose lungs are still developing) and people with respiratory problems are being asked by Iceland's health authorities to stay indoors, as the IMO's investigators have already traced the fumes to as far as Norway and Finland. A map of affected regions in Iceland can be found here.

Scientists working around the volcano are not taking extra precautions to ensure they don't breath in too much of the toxic fumes, which could make them light-headed and even cause asphyxiation.

You can watch the ongoing eruption, which looks a lot like just rising steam and smoke right now, via scientific webcams here and here.

The IMO has not ruled out the possibility of another surge of lava flow, where like in the initial eruption, molten rock may be thrown into the air around the fissure.

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