The Long Arm of Surtr

The volcano that is currently erupting in southeastern Iceland lies beneath the Eyjafjallajokull glacier, and its eruption is melting the ice above it. The interaction of the melting ice with the volcano prevents magma flows from forming, and instead causes ash plumes like the one that has shut down air traffic over much of Europe. When the ice blocking the eruption finally melts and all the water boils off, magma will flow unimpeded and the ash plumes will subside. No one knows how long this process will take.

To add a little local color to the story, I had intended to refer to the Norse equivalent of Vulcan, the god of volcanoes, but it turns out there isn’t one. The closest thing I could find was a figure out of Norse mythology named Surtr, who was a giant, rather than an actual god, and not one of the Æsir. His role was to bring forth the fires of the underworld to overwhelm the earth during Ragnarök. The island of Surtsey, which was formed by volcanic action south of Iceland in 1963, is named for him.

Today Surtr has managed to reach all the way to South Asia and interfere with American military logistics in Afghanistan. Because of the volcano’s ash plume, wounded soldiers can no longer be evacuated by air to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and instead are being routed across Southern Europe all the way across the Atlantic to the continental United States.

According to AFP:

Volcano Forces US Army to Reroute Medical Flights

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US commanders have suspended medical evacuations of wounded soldiers to a military hospital in Germany due to the volcanic ash clouding European skies, the Pentagon said Friday.

Soldiers seriously wounded in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are usually flown to Ramstein Air Base in Germany to be treated at the nearby Landstuhl medical center, the largest American military hospital outside the United States.

But the volcano in Iceland has spewed clouds of ash over Europe, grounding thousands flights in the continent’s biggest air travel shutdown since World War II.

The US medical flights will instead head to Andrews Air Force base outside Washington, after flying across southern Europe — which was still clear of ash, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.

“So we’re making adjustments as necessary,” he said, adding there had been no delays in medical evacuations.

The military planes would either refuel in mid-air or at US bases in Italy, officials said.

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Although the American military had diverted flights around the ash cloud, the volcano had not affected operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, Whitman said.

At least four US air bases were closed in Europe due to the volcano, two in Britain and two in Germany, he said.

Europe’s air traffic control authorities predicted 17,000 flights would be cancelled Friday.

Experts warned the fallout from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in southeast Iceland could take several days to clear.