Excess mortality in Europe following a future Laki-style Icelandic eruption

Anja Schmidt, Bart Ostro, Kenneth S. Carslaw, Marjorie Wilson, Thorvaldur Thordarson, Graham W. Mann, Adrian J. Simmons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Historical records show that the A. D. 1783-1784 Laki eruption in Iceland caused severe environmental stress and posed a health hazard far beyond the borders of Iceland. Given the reasonable likelihood of such an event recurring, it is important to assess the scale on which a future eruption could impact society. We quantify the potential health effects caused by an increase in air pollution during a future Laki-style eruption using a global aerosol model together with concentration-response functions derived from current epidemiological studies. The concentration of particulate matter with diameters smaller than 2.5 mu m is predicted to double across central, western, and northern Europe during the first 3 mo of the eruption. Over land areas of Europe, the current World Health Organization 24-h air quality guideline for particulate matter with diameters smaller than 2.5 mu m is exceeded an additional 36 d on average over the course of the eruption. Based on the changes in particulate air pollution, we estimate that approximately 142,000 additional cardiopulmonary fatalities (with a 95% confidence interval of 52,000-228,000) could occur in Europe. In terms of air pollution, such a volcanic eruption would therefore be a severe health hazard, increasing excess mortality in Europe on a scale that likely exceeds excess mortality due to seasonal influenza.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15710-15715
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
Issue number38
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2011


  • volcanic air pollution
  • flood lava eruption
  • health risk
  • volcanism
  • US


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