Iceland’s biggest volcano is ‘ready to erupt, warns expert

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  • Páll Einarsson a geophysicist at the University of Iceland made the warning
  • Bardarbunga volcano is hidden under the ice cap of the Vatnajökull glacier
  • He warned the recent quakes mean it is ‘clearly preparing for its next eruption’
  • He previously said 3 other volcanoes  – Katla, Hekla, and Grímsvötn – could erupt
  • While all four volcanoes are closely monitored by geophysicists, it is very hard to predict which will erupt, exactly when and the extent of the eruption 

Phoebe Weston For Mailonline

An eruption at Iceland’s biggest volcano could be brewing, an expert has warned.

The 6,590ft Bardarbunga volcano, which is hidden under the ice cap of the Vatnajökull glacier, has been rocked by a series of quakes in recent days.

Páll Einarsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland, says this shows that pressure in the volcanoes magma chamber is increasing.

He warns that the tremors mean Bardarbunga is ‘clearly preparing for its next eruption’ in the next few years which could create an ash cloud that will cause travel chaos.   

The warning follows the 2010’s explosive eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which threw thousands of tonnes of mineral ash into the air. 

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An eruption at Iceland's biggest volcano may be imminent, an expert has warned. The 6,590ft Bardarbunga volcano (pictured), which is hidden under the ice cap of the Vatnajökull glacier, has been rocked by a series of quakes in recent days

An eruption at Iceland's biggest volcano may be imminent, an expert has warned. The 6,590ft Bardarbunga volcano (pictured), which is hidden under the ice cap of the Vatnajökull glacier, has been rocked by a series of quakes in recent days

An eruption at Iceland’s biggest volcano may be imminent, an expert has warned. The 6,590ft Bardarbunga volcano (pictured), which is hidden under the ice cap of the Vatnajökull glacier, has been rocked by a series of quakes in recent days

LINK BETWEEN EARTHQUAKES AND VOLCANOES

According to Oregon State University, most earthquakes directly beneath a volcano are caused by the movement of magma.

The magma places pressure on the rocks until it cracks the rock.

Magma then moves into the crack and begins building pressure again. Every time the rock cracks it makes a small earthquake.

Most of this was fine particles that created an ash cloud. 

This caused travel chaos causing more than 10 million air passengers to be stranded as a result of its ash cloud and cost the European economy an estimated £4 billion ($4.9 billion).

A similar scenario could take place if Bardarbunga were to erupt. 

Bardarbunga is one of the most active of Iceland’s 130 volcanoes.

In 2014, a record-breaking volcanic eruption from Bardarbunga spewed lava and ash over Iceland’s Highlands for nearly six months, leaving behind the largest caldera formation ever observed. 

This eruption was the strongest of its kind in Europe in more than 240 years, and released two cubic kilometres of volcanic material.

Now, the volcano is showing signs of restlessness once again after being rocked by four huge earthquakes last week.

The earthquakes, measuring 3.9, 3.2, 4.7 and 4.7 on the Richter scale, struck the caldera region last weekend.

This suggests that magma could be building up below the surface, which could lead to another eruption soon. 

Páll Einarsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland, says this shows that pressure in the volcanoes magma chamber is increasing. Pictured is a plane flying over  the Bardarbunga volcano in September 2014

Páll Einarsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland, says this shows that pressure in the volcanoes magma chamber is increasing. Pictured is a plane flying over  the Bardarbunga volcano in September 2014

Páll Einarsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland, says this shows that pressure in the volcanoes magma chamber is increasing. Pictured is a plane flying over the Bardarbunga volcano in September 2014

The warning follows the 2010's explosive eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which threw thousands of tonnes of mineral ash into the air. An aerial photograph shows lava flowing out of the Bardarbunga volcano

The warning follows the 2010's explosive eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which threw thousands of tonnes of mineral ash into the air. An aerial photograph shows lava flowing out of the Bardarbunga volcano

The warning follows the 2010’s explosive eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which threw thousands of tonnes of mineral ash into the air. An aerial photograph shows lava flowing out of the Bardarbunga volcano

According to Oregon State University, most earthquakes directly beneath a volcano are caused by the movement of magma.

The magma places pressure on the rocks until it cracks the rock.

Magma then moves into the crack and begins building pressure again. Every time the rock cracks it makes a small earthquake.

Einarsson told the Daily Star the latest earthquakes were part of a series that has been ‘in progress for two years.’ 

Bardarbunga is one of the most active of Iceland's 130 volcanoes. Pictured is magma along a one-km-long fissure in a lava field from 2014 which covers part of the Bardarbunga volcano 

Bardarbunga is one of the most active of Iceland's 130 volcanoes. Pictured is magma along a one-km-long fissure in a lava field from 2014 which covers part of the Bardarbunga volcano 

Bardarbunga is one of the most active of Iceland’s 130 volcanoes. Pictured is magma along a one-km-long fissure in a lava field from 2014 which covers part of the Bardarbunga volcano 

RECORD-BREAKING BARDARBUNGA ERUPTION 

Iceland’s Met Office issued a ‘red alert’ at the end of August 2014 after the Bardarbunga volcano, which lies underneath the Vatnajökull glacier, experienced a ‘small’ eruption.

The aviation threat was reduced months later, though scientists at the time warned there was still gas contamination in the area around the eruption site.

Bardarbunga is a large central volcano lying underneath Iceland’s Vatnajokull glacier, in the centre of the country.

The researchers say the subsidence was spurred by the intrusion of underground magma, 12 kilometers below the surface

The researchers say the subsidence was spurred by the intrusion of underground magma, 12 kilometers below the surface

The researchers say the subsidence was spurred by the intrusion of underground magma, 12 kilometers below the surface

It contains a 2,296ft-deep (700 metre) caldera, hidden beneath ice, covered in extensive flank fissures, from where the majority eruptions take place.

The most recent eruption began in August 2014, and lasted until February 2015.

The Veidivötn fissure extends for over 62 miles (100km) to the south west, almost reaching Torfajökull volcano, while the Trollagigar fissure extends 31 (50km) to the north east, towards the Askja volcano.

‘The reason for the earthquakes in this place is that the volcano Bardarbunga is inflating, i.e. the pressure of magma in the magma chamber is increasing It has been doing this since the last eruption ended, in February 2015,’ he said.

‘The volcano is clearly preparing for its next eruption, that may happen in the next few years.’

‘The earthquakes last week are just the symptoms of this process, they do not cause the volcano to erupt.’ 

Dr Simon Day, of University College London, added that the activity could ‘precede a large explosive eruption and consequent widespread ash fall’, but claimed it is ‘statistically unlikely.’

The Icelandic Met Office has listed activity levels at the volcano as ‘high’ but has not yet issued a warning. 

But Bardarbunga isn’t the only volcano that’s worrying Einarsson.

In February, he warned that three other volcanoes, Katla, Hekla, Bardarbunga and Grímsvön, are priming to erupt, which could lead to travel chaos. 

While all four volcanoes are closely monitored by geophysicists, it is very hard to predict which will erupt, exactly when and the extent of the eruption 

Katla  

Katla is the least recently-active volcano of the four, which last erupted in 1918.

But according to the Global Volcanism Program, Katla has been showing signs of restlessness recently, with tremors in September exceeding the magnitude three mark.

This level of tremor could be enough to send magma upwards through the crust, and cause it to burst through the surface.

KATLA’S 1918 ERUPTION 

Katla is among the most frequently erupting volcanoes in Iceland, averaging about two eruptions each century. 

The volcanic massive is partly covered by the glacier Mýrdalsjökull which fills a caldera depression and covers the eruptive vents.

The eruptions are accompanied by enormous laharic floods which have formed a vast sandur plain.

The last eruption in Katla occurred in 1918. 

The Southern coast was extended by 5 km by the laharic flood deposits. 

 

Speaking to Iceland Review, Kristín Jónsdóttir, natural hazard program director at the Icelandic Met Office said: ‘It’s been a long time since Katla erupted, and this could just as well end with an eruption. It’s just impossible to tell right now.’

Another concern is melting under the ice cap of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, where Katla sits, which, if it occurred, would cause a glacial outburst flood.

Ms Jónsdóttir added, ‘This could just as well die down, and nothing would result. We simply can’t say at this stage.’

Despite the fears of Katla erupting, Ms Jónsdóttir added: ‘I think we’re all ready for her when she comes. This is well organized.’ 

In August Katla was moved from yellow back to green, meaning that volcanic activity has subsided and there is little sign of impending eruption.  

Katla has been showing signs of restlessness recently, with tremors in September exceeding the magnitude 3 mark

Katla has been showing signs of restlessness recently, with tremors in September exceeding the magnitude 3 mark

Katla has been showing signs of restlessness recently, with tremors in September exceeding the magnitude 3 mark

Four volcanoes in Iceland are primed to erupt, according to experts. The volcanoes in question are Katla, Hekla, Bárðarbunga and Grímsvötn ¿ three of which have already erupted in the last 20 years

Four volcanoes in Iceland are primed to erupt, according to experts. The volcanoes in question are Katla, Hekla, Bárðarbunga and Grímsvötn ¿ three of which have already erupted in the last 20 years

Four volcanoes in Iceland are primed to erupt, according to experts. The volcanoes in question are Katla, Hekla, Bárðarbunga and Grímsvötn – three of which have already erupted in the last 20 years

Hekla 

Hekla, otherwise known as the 'Gateway to Hell', erupted in 2000, sending a cloud of ash up to six kilometres high

Hekla, otherwise known as the 'Gateway to Hell', erupted in 2000, sending a cloud of ash up to six kilometres high

Hekla, otherwise known as the ‘Gateway to Hell’, erupted in 2000, sending a cloud of ash up to six kilometres high

Hekla, otherwise known as the ‘Gateway to Hell’ is located in the southern part of the country and has been quiet for sixteen years.

But data collected in June last year revealed it is building up magma, and its internal pressure is currently higher than before its last two previous eruptions. 

The volcano has erupted approximately once every 10 years, from 1970 to 2000, but has remained dormant ever since. 

Professor Einarsson told Icelandic news agency Visir, that people should stop visiting the volcano, which is a popular tourist destination, due to an increased risk of eruption. 

‘Hekla is a dangerous volcano,’ said Professor Einarsson. 

‘We could be looking at a major disaster when the next eruption begins if we are not careful.’ 

Hekla is located in the southern part of the country and has been quiet for sixteen years. But data collected in June last year revealed it is building up magma

Hekla is located in the southern part of the country and has been quiet for sixteen years. But data collected in June last year revealed it is building up magma

Hekla is located in the southern part of the country and has been quiet for sixteen years. But data collected in June last year revealed it is building up magma

The 4,892-foot (1,491-metre) mountain last erupted in February 2000. 

‘Hekla is ready – at any moment,’ Professor Einarsson said. 

‘There are also 20-30 planes full of passengers flying right over the top of Hekla every day,’ he warns.  

Grimsvotn 

Grimsvotn is very near Bardarbunga, and is likely to be fuelled by the same source of magma. 

In 2011, Grimsvotn erupted, sending a huge plume of ash into the skies, that led to several flights being grounded. 

Like its neighbour, Grimsvotn has seen seismic activity steadily rising, which suggests that it could erupt again in the near future.

While all four volcanoes are closely monitor by geophysicists, it is very hard to predict which will erupt, exactly when and the extent of the eruption.

In 2011, Grimsvotn erupted, sending a huge plume of ash into the skies, that led to several flights being grounded

In 2011, Grimsvotn erupted, sending a huge plume of ash into the skies, that led to several flights being grounded

In 2011, Grimsvotn erupted, sending a huge plume of ash into the skies, that led to several flights being grounded