NERC and aviation authorities prepare for possible Icelandic eruption

3 September 2014

In response to seismic activity around Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano, NERC is working with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and other partners to ensure that the UK's large atmospheric research aircraft (ARA) is fitted out and available to monitor any ash plume should it be needed.

Owned and managed by NERC, the ARA is a highly modified and instrumented BAe-146, and was one of the research aircraft used to monitor the ash plume from Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010.

Measurements taken from the ARA, together with ground-based LIDAR (laser) data and computer modelling, were instrumental in leading the CAA to introduce more sophisticated rules to allow planes to fly in areas with a low density of volcanic ash. NERC's contribution limited losses to the aviation industry, getting it back on its feet and saving it an estimated £260 million per day.

Following the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, NERC's National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) has worked to improve infrastructure to limit the impact of future eruptions. NCAS is currently operating a LIDAR system close to the Bardarbunga eruption.

In a separate project, NERC-funded researchers from the University of Cambridge's NERC Earth Systems Science Doctoral Training Partnership flew to Iceland on 31 August to help install new seismometers in the region, adding to the numerous instruments already deployed over the last few years.

Thanks to collaborations between the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) and NERC-funded researchers at the University of Cambridge and NERC's British Geological Survey (BGS) leading to the installation of seismometers in Iceland, the movement of the magma associated with Bardarbunga can now be detected in real time in unprecedented detail.

BGS is also working with the IMO to monitor gas emissions from a fissure eruption close to Bardarbunga, and is helping the IMO provide detailed background information on its website. This includes possible eruption scenarios from the soon-to-be-published Catalogue of Icelandic Volcanoes, a project BGS is leading as part of FUTUREVOLC - an EU project to monitor Europe's volcanoes.

The ARA is owned by NERC, while the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) facility is a partnership between NERC and the Met Office. FAAM forms part of NCAS. Aircraft services are provided through a contract with BAE Systems Regional Aircraft and the aircraft is operated by Directflight Ltd.

Further information

NERC media office
01793 411561
07917 557215


1. An impact evidence case study highlights how, in 2010, NERC's NCAS supported the CAA in developing more sophisticated rules to allow planes to fly in areas with a low density of volcanic ash, limiting the impact of the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull on the global aviation industry, saving it an estimated £260 million per day.

Press release: 22/14