Just over four years ago, air traffic across the continent of Europe was disrupted by a volcanic eruption that occurred within Iceland that spewed concentrations of volcanic ash at high altitudes and across European and Atlantic skies.  Many industry supply chains were impacted as time and value sensitive shipments of agricultural and food products, pharmaceutical, medical products, high technology and telecommunications components were impacted, to name a few.  Air travel was a mess as thousands of air travelers suffered through flight cancellations and so were ground logistics and transportation networks as supply chain logistics professionals scrambled to seek alternative means to move products to customers. 

Much was hopefully learned from that disruption event.

All of this week, media has been reporting a high concentration of volcanic occurrences within a specific region of Iceland. This intense earthquake swarm involves thousands of small earthquakes within the area of the Bárðarbunga volcano.  The intense clusters of earthquakes were moving towards the north and the east of the volcano. The Icelandic Meteorological Office raised the aviation threat level around the volcano to “orange” — or a 4 out of 5 on the agency’s risk scale — indicating that the “volcano shows heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption.” The last confirmed eruption of this volcano took place in June of 1910. This specific volcanic area has a history for massive eruption many hundreds of years ago. The area sits beneath one of the largest glacier areas in Iceland which in itself could itself explode if and when it comes in contact with hot molten magma.

Some reports indicate that any potential ash would likely travel south towards the Bay of Biscay, then head east over Western Europe, which raises heightened concerns for air travel across the continent.  After the previous air disruption incident, there was heightened debate as to whether European air safety officials overreacted with mass groundings of aircraft.  Then again, which airline or air cargo carrier wants to risk lives and aircraft costing hundreds of millions by flying through or adjacent to volcanic ash and debris clouds?

As noted, the 2010 European air traffic disruption incident was a reminder to the unplanned occurrence of significant supply chain disruption.  Let us all hope that there will not be any occurrence.

Supply chain logistics and customer fulfillment teams need to remain diligent in the coming days.