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Penn State Football: Icelandic Volcano Could Threaten Season Opener

by on August 20, 2014 4:37 PM

This wasn't supposed to be part of the sanctions.

Penn State's season opening game against UCF in Ireland could potentially hit a serious snag if the Icelandic volcano Bardarbunga erupts after rumbling to life in the past week.

The volcano's threat level was raised to "orange" the fourth position on a five tiered scale after "Intense seismic activity" began on Aug. 16. According to the BBC it was the strongest earthquake activity in the region since 1996.

Over the past several days thousands of mini earthquakes and seismic events have caught the attention of the aviation industry. An industry that is only years removed from a similar Icelandic eruption in 2010 that cancelled thousands of European flights. The ash cloud that can result from such an eruption would reach several miles in height and disperse a fine grainy ash that can ruin airplane engines over a swath of airspace covering most of northern Europe.

Onward State spoke with Penn State geosciences professor Dr. Kevin Furlong who explained the changing warning levels.

“Basically, the warning level goes up and down depending on the other activity,” Furlong said on the earthquakes. “For Iceland, the main thing they are monitoring is the small earthquakes. They’re very small, but the instruments pick them up. If they increase, the level of warning could increase, but if they stop, the level goes down.”

The good news for Penn State fans is that an eruption could still be far away from happening or happen in a way that would not affect flights in and around Europe.

Geologists in the region have reported that the magma that could potentially reach the surface and trigger an eruption is still many miles below the earth's surface and has not moved significantly closer to the surface over the past several days.

Geologist Ari Trausti Guðmundsson laid out a broad overview of possible scenarios in a blog post Monday:

It is impossible to predict how the processes will develop. A volcanic eruption could start under the ice east or north of Bardarbunga. In this case it would produce ash and pumice but in unknown quantities and with an unknown force. A large flood (jökulhlaup) is not to be ruled out and the flood path would most likely follow the glacial river Jökulsá á Fjöllum in the northeast of Iceland.

An eruption could, however, commence outside of the Dyngjujökull outlet glacier as a lava-producing event. In that case, air traffic disturbance is highly unlikely.

The third scenario would be a combination of the other two.

As for Penn State, it's business as usual with one eye on the news.

"We're aware of that, and we're monitoring that situation," said Michael Hazel, Penn State's director of football operations. "That's kind of out of our area of expertise."

If you're feeling desperate for the latest information, a live webcam of the region has been set up here. While it isn't HD quality, I'm assuming a volcanic eruption will be fairly easy to spot.

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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