REPORTS predicting the imminent eruption of a “highly hazardous” volcano in Iceland have been slammed by scientists as premature and “highly exaggerated”.
The story was originally published by UK news outlet The Sunday Times and focused on recent airborne measurements taken by Icelandic and British scientists around Katla, a giant volcano in southern Iceland.
The story claimed the measurements concluded that Katla was releasing “huge” amounts of carbon dioxide and was poised to erupt at any moment.
Several scientists weighed in on the findings in the story, including Leeds University volcanologist Evgenia Ilyinskaya.
Dr Ilyinskaya co-authored a report on Katla, published last week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, which found that the volcano was releasing between “12 and 24 kilotons of carbon dioxide every day” — an amount of gas she claims is “huge”.
But according to Dr Ilyinskaya, her research team were in “no position to predict whether Katla is about to erupt or that magma is building up”.
But what appeared in The Times was something very different.
Katla, which is Icelandic for “kettle” or “boiler”, last erupted in 1918 and was apparently “overdue” for an eruption, the story claimed.
It reads like a scene out of Dante’s Peak and comes eight years after the major eruption of Katla’s neighbouring volcano, Eyjafjallajokull which essentially shut down Europe’s entire air travel system.
To put that into perspective, the ash clouds produced by this immense volcanic eruption resulted in the biggest disruption of international flight space since World War II.
If the people of Iceland, and Europe in general, weren’t already anxious enough, the story claims that scientists have warned Katla is ready to blow “on a scale that dwarfs” the Eyjafjallajokull eruption of 2010.
Naturally, the story prompted worldwide panic and was picked up and shared by news outlets around the globe.
It also sparked a major backlash from the scientific community, saying the story had been completely misunderstood and fabricated.
Scientists have taken to social media to call out the claims, saying there is no reliable evidence to suggest that Katla will erupt at anytime.
They have also said that the original article misunderstood the measurements taken by the scientists and that elevated levels of carbon dioxide did not necessarily mean an eruption was imminent.
One of those angry scientists is Evgenia Ilyinskaya.
Naming and shaming this scaremongering article. I said explicitly that we are in no position to say whether or not #Katla #volcano is ready to erupt; and that air traffic disruption in case of an #eruption is unlikely to be as serious as in 2010. You are lying to your readers https://t.co/zyE5hFQQDb— Evgenia Ilyinskaya (@EIlyinskaya)
In a ferocious Twitter thread, Dr Ilyinskaya described the story as “shameful” and called out The Times and other outlets for “lying to your readers” and twisting her words during a 20-minute interview.
“Incredibly disappointing to see that The Sunday Times have gone down the route of trashy tabloids,” she wrote.
“This article misinforms their readers and undermines me as a scientist and a specialist in my field.”
She said she was glad that her study had received interest from the media but regretted that her research was misrepresented and exaggerated.
“I said explicitly that we are in no position to say whether or not Katla volcano is ready to erupt; and that air traffic disruption in case of an eruption is unlikely to be as serious as in 2010,” she wrote.
She also claimed she told the reporter that “air traffic disruption was very unusual and unlikely to happen if Katla erupts”.
“And still The Sunday Times quote me as saying exactly the opposite!”
She described the story as a “scaremongering article”, saying she was exasperated by journalists misrepresenting what experts tell them.
“The real shame here is that the true version of the story was already very important and interesting in itself. We discovered something totally unexpected and mind-blowing about Katla volcano and the discovery may help forecast its eruptions better in the future,” she said.
University of Iceland geophysics professor Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson took to Facebook to explain that Dr Ilyinskaya’s study had been seriously misunderstood by the mainstream media.
“The measurements do not tell us whether there is a magma at the moment or how big the next eruption will be, since the author never wrote this anywhere in the article,” he wrote.
“It’s possible that more measurements will shed new light on Katla’s behaviour and could in this way help us further improve monitoring and risk assessment.
“More measurements are the only way to make a reliable assessment of the volcano’s total emissions.”
According to an article by local news site the Iceland Review, speculation on the eruption was premature.
“It bears noting that the original article itself makes no claims that Katla is about to erupt,” the story said.