Before April 2010, few Icelanders gave Eyjafjallajökull much thought. Buried under an ice cap in the south of the country, it was one of Iceland's smaller volcanoes — almost as hard to see as it was for non-Icelandic speakers to pronounce. But then Eyjafjallajökull emerged from the ice, blackening the island's moss-covered landscape and lofting a column of ash 29,000 feet into the atmosphere. As it drifted across Europe, the cloud grounded planes and forced ports to close, freezing supply chains that spanned the globe. It was an impact felt far beyond the tiny island nation.
Today, four more of Iceland's 130 volcanoes — Katla, its largest, as well as Hekla, Bárðarbunga and Grímsvötn — are poised to erupt. Geophysicists warn that if and when Katla erupts, damage could easily exceed that seen in 2010.
Eyjafjallajökull sent economic shock waves throughout global supply chains when much of Europe's airspace was closed for six days, cancelling 100,000 flights and causing sporadic disruptions that lasted for weeks. The daily flow of $41 billion worth of products moving through the global economy was interrupted. "The chain for fresh seafood was broken," says Hörður Sævaldsson, assistant professor at the University of Akureyri in Iceland.