Iceland volcanic ash cloud set to reach UK

Philip Hammond: "We know much more about the composition, direction and size of the plume than we did last year"

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An ash cloud from the Grimsvotn volcano in Iceland is expected to reach the UK by the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Met Office has said.

It does not necessarily mean there will be airspace closures but makes flight disruption more likely, it said.

The cloud is predicted to affect parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The event comes a year after ash from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano spread across Europe, causing huge disruption.

'Better prepared'

The Met Office, which runs Europe's Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, earlier said there was a possibility of ash moving across the UK towards the end of the week.

But a spokesman said the weather was much more changeable than at the time of last year's eruption and there was a lot more uncertainty.

The Civil Aviation Authority and the UK's air traffic control service Nats said they were monitoring the situation closely.

Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking before a meeting of EU counterparts in Brussels, said he did not expect a blanket closure of UK airspace.

"I think we are far better prepared and we'll have far better information and intelligence which allows us to adjust things without necessarily the blanket bans on flights which we saw last year, but of course it depends on how the situation develops," he said.

Vast area

The Icelandic Met Official said the ash cloud could touch north-west Scotland on Monday evening, reaching about 20,000ft (6,100 metres) below the normal cruising altitude of commercial aircraft.

A spokesman said ash at higher altitudes than this was moving north-west and towards Greenland.

The Grimsvotn volcano erupting The Grimsvotn volcano in Iceland began its worst eruption in 100 years on Saturday

The Grimsvotn volcano began erupting on Saturday with ash rising to 20km (12 miles) but, although still active, is now not as powerful with a plume of 13km (8 miles).

The cloud is expected to cover a vast crescent across the North Atlantic from northern Russia to the British Isles by the early hours of Tuesday morning.

During last year's eruption UK airspace was shut down completely by the authorities as a precaution, but this time airlines will make their own decisions about whether it is safe to fly.

The National Airspace Crisis Management Executive is meeting every six hours to assess the situation.

Looking better

Icelandic air traffic control has created a no-fly zone around the volcano and cancelled all domestic flights. The country's main international airport, Keflavik airport near the capital Reykjavik, has been closed.

Iceland's aviation authority said the airport might open again on Monday or overnight.

Spokeswoman Hjordis Gudmundsdottir said: "It looks better today and we are hoping to reopen Keflavik airport later today or tonight. We are not quite sure at what hour, but at least we are looking at it being possible."

She said there were indications the ash cloud could be clearing above Iceland.

The Grimsvotn volcano lies beneath the ice of the uninhabited Vatnajokull glacier in south-east Iceland. The latest eruption is its most most powerful eruption in 100 years.

Large particles

However, University of Iceland geophysicist Pall Einarsson said the eruption was on a different scale to the one last year.

"It is not likely to be anything on the scale that was produced last year when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted," he said.

"That was an unusual volcano, an unusual ash size distribution and unusual weather pattern, which all conspired together to make life difficult in Europe."

The ash particles from this eruption are said to be larger than last year and, as a result, fall to the ground more quickly.

Iceland has been badly affected by the current eruption, with ash falling across the country including Reykjavik.

Tourists have been evacuated from the country's main national parks and farming has been hit.

Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir said the country's government would do whatever it could to compensate people living near the eruption for any damages suffered.

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