Iceland closed its main international airport and cancelled domestic flights as a powerful volcanic eruption sent a plume of ash, smoke and steam 12 miles into the air.
Airport and air traffic control operator ISAVIA said Keflavik airport was closed and no flights were taking off or landing.
Spokeswoman Hjordis Gudmundsdottir said the ash plume was covering Iceland, but “the good news is that it is not heading to Europe”.
She said the ash was blowing northwest toward Greenland instead. She said officials were investigating whether Iceland’s other airports could take Keflavik-bound flights.
Trans-Atlantic flights were being diverted away from Iceland, and there was no sign yet that the eruption would cause the widespread travel disruption triggered last year by ash from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.
In April 2010, officials closed the continent’s air space for five days, fearing the ash could harm jet engines. Some 10 million travelers were stranded.
The Grimsvotn volcano, which lies under the uninhabited Vatnajokull glacier about 120 miles reykjavik, began erupting yesterday for the first time since 2004.
University of Iceland geophysicist Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson said the new eruption was 10 times as powerful as the one in 2004, which lasted for several days and briefly disrupted international flights.
He told broadcaster RUV that the eruption was Grimsvotn’s largest for 100 years.
Another geophysicist, Pall Einarsson, said last year’s eruption was a rare event and Grimsvotn would likely have much less effect on international air traffic.
“The ash in Eyjafjallajokull was persistent or unremitting and fine-grained,” Einarsson said. “The ash in Grimsvotn is more coarse and not as likely to cause danger as it falls to the ground faster.”