Iceland’s volcanic eruption fuels emissions misinformation

Iceland’s volcanic eruption fuels emissions misinformation

By: francesca scott&
December 21 2023

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Iceland’s volcanic eruption fuels emissions misinformation

Drone view of the volcano erupting on Iceland's Reykjanes Peninsula (Source: Reuters Connect)

A massive volcanic eruption occurred on Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula just after 10 p.m. local time on Monday, December 18, firing ten times more lava per second than any of the past three eruptions. The Guardian reported the volcanic fissure was 4km long and three kilometers away from the nearest town of Grindavík, and “Between 100 and 200 cubic meters (3,530 and 7,060 cubic ft) of lava was emerging per second” by Tuesday. Locals were evacuated in November after more than 1,000 small earthquakes occurred in 24 hours. 

Experts have quelled worries about toxic gas from the eruption. Reuters, quoting Iceland's environmental agency, reported that levels of sulfur dioxide measured close to the eruption “rose from 0.2 micrograms per cubic metre at 0650 GMT to above 1,300 an hour later,” and levels soon returned to normal, though gas pollution could occur in Reykjavik in the following days. As of December 20, there is no threat to life, and air travel continues to operate. 

Climate denialists have taken the eruption as an opportunity to sow misinformation on social media. One user said, “I have no idea of the numbers, but I wonder how much the volcano eruption in Iceland and the consequential Co2 it emits, negates the piddling amount of Co2 the UK is bankrupting itself to save?” while another quipped, “Welcome to Iceland where a volcano just erupted releasing CO2 and other gasses into the atmosphere. What possibly will the Green Jesus do?” 

Volcanic eruptions do not create anywhere near as many emissions as human activities, which emit “60 or more times the amount of carbon dioxide as volcanoes each year,” according to Their report explains that “large, violent eruptions may match the rate of human emissions for the few hours that they last, but they are too rare and fleeting to rival humanity’s annual emissions.”

Human activities include the burning of fossil fuels and coal, cement production, deforestation, and the meat and dairy industry. As reported by NASA, “The impact of human activities on the carbon cycle far exceeds that of all the world's volcanoes combined by more than 100 times.”

This kind of misinformation is not new; in January 2023, a claim spread online that a volcano in Greece had “put more CO2 in the atmosphere in 24 hours than humans have in our entire existence.” The claim was debunked, and AP quoted volcanologist Tobias Fischer,  who asserted, “Greece is not a very active volcanic region” and that “experts would certainly be aware of a single volcano that emits more CO2 than human activity.” He added, “It makes no sense.”

Former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee made similar inaccurate comments in 2015 during an interview about human-made global warming: “But a volcano, in one blast, will contribute more than 100 years of human activity.” not only debunked the claims but added volcanoes' “more important contribution in terms of global climate is sulfur dioxide or SO2. This molecule acts as an aerosol and reflects sunlight away from the earth, helping cool it down.”

Logically Facts debunked the same kind of misinformation when Mount Etna erupted in 2022; although volcanic eruptions do emit a significant amount of CO2, “active eruptions of volcanoes are rare compared to daily carbon dioxide emissions caused by humans.”

To stay informed of the latest updates on the volcanic activity in Iceland, Safe Travel Iceland and Iceland Meteorological Office provide regular information. 

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We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before