In the years before GPS (Global Positioning System), lighthouses were a vital part of keeping ships off of the shore, rocks just below the surface, and islands. While necessary, lighthouses were not always easy to build. Of course, a lighthouse that sat on the shoreline of a coast was a fairly simple build, but one that sat on the top of a dangerous rock outcropping was more difficult, especially if the rocks were very tall and hard to access, like the Pridrangaviti Lighthouse in the Westman Islands of Iceland.

The Pridrangaviti Lighthouse was built in 1938, right before the onset of World War II. Its construction was by no means an easy task. Construction workers had to scale the cliff to reach the place where they were to lay the lighthouse groundwork. This mean facing slick rocks, rain, winds, and even heavy surf. One misstep would lead to their death on the rocks and icy North Atlantic Ocean below. Nevertheless, the task was eventually finished, and the effect is quite beautiful.

The lighthouse warns passing ships of a cluster of slender rock pillars that jut out from the ocean’s surface. The pillars look like fingers stretching toward the sky, and they are located miles away from civilization. The lighthouse looks like a colorful speck on top of the largest pillar. The tiny, red-roofed lighthouse is quite likely one of the loneliest lighthouses in the world, and I don’t think I would want to be the person who had the job of manning it. The lighthouse is the only thing on the rock, and so you would likely be there for at least a month at a time before it would be feasible to leave.

Repairs were a big issue as well…at least until modern times. These days, when repairs are needed, supplies and workers can be helicoptered in. And these days, the rock sports a helicopter pad for any visitors who might go there. You could also get there by boat and go rock climbing to reach the top, but anyone who goes must know that visiting the Pridrangaviti lighthouse is a dangerous endeavor. One wrong step, and any unsuspecting explorers just may find themselves going for an unplanned swim with the killer whales that like to hang out in the waves below. Nevertheless, just imagine being able to go and visit such a lighthouse. I’m not a rock climber, so I don’t know about climbing up, but to helicopter in and be able to explore the lighthouse and the grounds…yep, that would be very cool.

Would you want your nation to go to war over fish? Would you even consider that nations might do that? Well, enter the Cod Wars. The Cod Wars were disputes over Iceland’s territorial waters, fought in four bouts over a 25 year period: The Proto Cod War, between 1952 and 1956; the First Cod War between 1958 and 1961; the Second Cod War between 1972 and 1973; and the Third Cod War between 1975 and 1976. Iceland wanted to expand its territorial waters and exclude foreign fishing fleets. Britain would have none of that. The British distant fishing fleet fished extensively in the waters off Iceland, and supplied a lot of fish and chips shops. But Britain also wanted to prevent precedents that violated the principle of narrow territorial waters. Narrow territorial waters were key for the Royal Navy to sail freely and continue to project power across the world. The Icelanders were motivated by the prospective economic gains. An extension of its territorial waters meant greater catches, and a way to exclude competing trawler fleets and conserve important fishing grounds. The country’s heavy dependence on fishing meant that extensions had a significant impact on Iceland’s Gross Domestic Product, roughly one-quarter of which was tied to the fisheries sector, export earnings one-half to two-thirds of which were tied to the fisheries sector and employment roughly 15 percent of which was in the fisheries sector.

Each Cod War broke out when Iceland extended its territorial waters and the British failed to comply with the new Icelandic regulations. Clashes and confrontations started between Icelandic patrol ships and British trawlers. The harassment of British trawlers in the contested waters provoked the British to sanction the Icelanders in the Proto Cod War preventing the Icelanders from accessing their largest export market and send the Royal Navy into the contested waters during the last three Cod Wars. Neither side actively tried to cause casualties but the clashes at sea were still dangerous. I can’t imagine a war, in which the combatants try not to hurt each other. Nevertheless, individuals were injured, and there was one fatality on the Icelandic side. Surely bargaining would have saved both sides the inevitable costs and risks of unilateral, unrecognized expansions. Historians and political scientists have identified how domestic pressure on elites and the nature of alliance politics contributed to miscalculation on both sides that contributed to bargaining failure.

Neither government really understood the public pressure that their counterparts were under. Icelandic politicians were particularly vulnerable to domestic pressure, as opposition parties, media and public sentiment likened compromise to treason. Contradictory statements from different members of the Icelandic government, diplomats and other elites contributed to the mistaken British view that the Icelanders were divided and not fully committed to expansive and legally dubious extensions. The British trawling industry, which had a staunch ally in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, put great pressure on the British government. The Ministry favored aggressive and extreme actions in the disputes, while the Foreign Office was more conciliatory and concerned about the Cod Wars’ impact on British security interests and international standing. The Icelanders deemed it unlikely that their NATO ally and friend would sanction the Icelanders or send in the Royal Navy. Both sides also believed that the United States and other NATO allies would side with them. Even though the American position on territorial waters tended to line up with the British view, and the United States opposed Iceland’s unilateralism, the United States ultimately intervened on Iceland’s behalf. They had a stake in the outcome. The United States bought up unsold Icelandic fish, making the British sanctions toothless in the Proto Cod War. The United States pressured Britain behind the scenes in the last three Cod Wars. At stake was a strategically important United States base in Keflavík, which was needed to track Soviet submarine activity. For the United States, Iceland was an important chain in the line of defense in case of war with the Soviet Union.

Neither Iceland or Britain found the other’s threats and demands credible prior to the outbreak of conflict. However, as each Cod War intensified and Icelandic statesmen came under major domestic pressure, they found themselves forced to threaten to withdraw Iceland’s NATO membership and expel United States forces from the military base in Keflavík in desperate attempts to push the British to give in to Iceland’s demands. What started as minor disputes over fishing rights suddenly had implications for the Cold War. President Eisenhower…during the Proto Cod War…and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger…during the Second Cod War…talked about the Icelanders in terms of the “tyranny of the weak,” as they felt compelled to oblige their small, obstinate, strategically important ally. With NATO allies heaping pressure on the British. to settle and Icelandic politicians clearly constrained by public pressure, the British reluctantly gave in to most of the Icelanders’ demands. Iceland achieved favorable agreements in each Cod War, with the last Cod War concluding 40 years ago when the Icelanders achieved a 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

When a volcano erupts, we think of lava and billowing clouds of ash. Those things do happen, but what we don’t think about is what can happen to planes, because of the ash. I suppose that is because we think of that eruption as being a very localized thing. In reality, it isn’t, because the jet stream moves the air around our world, and the ash goes with it. Volcanic ash and airplane engines are not a good mix. Volcanic ash consists of small tephra, which are bits of pulverized rock and glass less than 2 millimeters in diameter created by volcanic eruptions. As the ash enters the atmosphere, it is carried away from the volcano by winds. The ash with the smallest size can remain in the atmosphere for a considerable period of time. The ash cloud can be dangerous to aviation if it reaches the heights of aircraft flight paths.

Part of the problem is that pilots can’t see ash clouds at night, and ash particles are too small to return an echo to on-board weather radars on commercial airliners. Even when they are flying in daylight, pilots may interpret a visible ash cloud as a normal cloud of water vapor and not a danger…especially if the ash has travelled far from the eruption site. Volcanic ash has a melting point of approximately 2,010° F, which is below the operating temperature of modern commercial jet engines, about 2,550° F. Volcanic ash can damage gas turbines in a number of ways. These can be categorized into those that pose an immediate hazard to the engines and those that present a maintenance problem. As was the case with KLM Flight 867, bound for Anchorage, Alaska, when all four engines flamed out after the aircraft inadvertently entered a cloud of ash blown from erupting Redoubt Volcano, 150 miles away. The volcano had begun erupting 10 hours earlier on that morning of December 15, 1989. Only after the crippled jet had dropped from an altitude of 27,900 feet to 13,300 feet…a fall of more than 2 miles…was the crew able to restart all engines and land the plane safely at Anchorage. The plane required $80 million in repairs, including the replacement of all four damaged engines.

The 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, were relatively small for volcanic eruptions. Nevertheless, they caused enormous disruption to air travel across western and northern Europe over the next six days. Additional localized disruption occurred into May 2010. The eruption was declared officially over in October 2010. About 20 countries closed their airspace to commercial jet traffic and it affected about 10 million travelers. This was the highest level of air travel disruption since World War II. It’s strange for us to think that so much can happen to a jet engine is volcanic ash is introduced into it, but that is definitely the case, and if air planes travel in the area of certain types of volcanic ash, planes can be lost. The only prudent thing to do is stop travel in the area…no matter how inconvenient it is to travelers.

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