REYKJAVIK, Iceland — For all the worldwide chaos that Iceland’s volcano has already created, it may just be the opening act.
Scientists fear tremors at the Eyjafjallajokull (ay-yah-FYAH-lah-yer-kuhl) volcano could trigger an even more dangerous eruption at the nearby Katla volcano – creating a worst-case scenario for the airline industry and travelers around the globe.
A Katla eruption would be 10 times stronger and shoot higher and larger plumes of ash into the air than its smaller neighbor, which has already brought European air travel to a standstill for five days and promises severe travel delays for days more.
The two volcanos are side by side in southern Iceland, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) apart and thought to be connected by a network of magma channels.
Katla, however, is buried under ice 550 yards (500 meters) thick – the massive Myrdalsjokull glacier, one of Iceland’s largest. That means it has more than twice the amount of ice that the current eruption has burned through – threatening a new and possibly longer aviation standstill across Europe.
Katla showed no signs of activity Tuesday, according to scientists who monitor it with seismic sensors, but they were still wary.
Pall Einarsson, professor of geophysics at the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland, said one volcanic eruption sometimes causes a nearby volcano to explode, and Katla and Eyjafjallajokull have been active in tandem in the past.
In fact, the last three times that Eyjafjallajokull erupted, Katla did as well.
Katla also typically awakens every 80 years or so, and having last exploded in 1918 is now slightly overdue.