All About Icelandic Volcanoes | Always updated
With 32 volcanic systems in Iceland, there is always something for experts and enthusiasts to watch out for on our volcano tours. Since the Bárðarbunga eruption ended on 28th February 2015 there have been no volcanic eruptions in Iceland. This certainly doesn’t mean things have been quiet and unexciting. Earthquakes patterns and the many other signs earth scientists measure are always happening. Since late summer 2017 and through the autumn there has been an upsurge of volcano news.
This November, things got really exciting and a few famous Icelandic volcanoes hit the international news. Everyone has heard of Eyjafjallajökull, Katla, and the aforementioned Bárðarbunga, however, there is now a new ‘kid on the block´, the Öræfajökull Volcano. The awakening of this particular volcano has been the subject of hot debate over the last few days here in Iceland. Increased monitoring apparatus was immediately installed, a surveillance flight took place on Friday (17th November) and some safety meetings between the relevant experts have taken place.
There is currently no eruption but Öræfajökull, previously in deep slumber, has certainly awakened! In a bulletin by RÚV (the national broadcasting service) on 20th November, Ármann Höskuldsson, a volcano expert at the University of Iceland, declared “Öræfajökull is preparing for an eruption”. This is certainly a new situation but one which we must keep in perspective. The first signs Eyjafjallajökull was preparing for an eruption showed 16 years before it happened in 2010. We could be waiting quite a few years or a much shorter time!
The Icelandic people are used to volcanic eruptions, there is never many years without any, some years there have been more than one. Whenever a volcano shows clear signs of preparation, the experts meet together and formulate a specific Civil Protection Plan. When a volcano is under a glacier this plan sets out how things will be handled in the event of a volcano eruption, and/or a glacial flood, known as a Jökulhlaup. So, if an eruption happens the emergency action plan will work like clock-work. Iceland has a stupendous safety record when it comes to handling eruptions and glacial floods. No tourist has ever been injured or killed and just one member of the public lost his life in modern times, unfortunately, he was too drunk to follow evacuation advice.
When and ultimately where the next volcanic eruption in Iceland will be is an exciting and interesting question! There are, though, a few likely contenders!
So, let’s take a look at the latest news!
Photo by Theo Crazzolara
This ‘new kid on the block’ has caused a crescendo of excitement, upsetting the weekend plans of a few experts (18th November 2017). The aviation color code was moved to yellow on 17th November 2017, and the finer details of the Emergency Civil Protection Plan are being formulated. A yellow alert means an uncertainty phase has been reached. This is issued when a volcano is showing signs of unrest, An orange alert would indicate increased unrest, red alerts are only posted if eruptions are likely to be imminent.
Öræfajökull is actually an old volcano which commanded very little attention because it was so quiet, not many people outside of Iceland even realized it was a volcano. For many tourists, Öræfajökull was just the glacier in the south-east of Iceland, where Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland´s highest peak was situated. Hvannadalshnúkur is actually on the northwestern rim of the Öræfajökull crater, this is certainly Iceland´s highest volcano!
Öræfajökull – What is going on?
Before August 2011, when there were just small flurries, earthquakes were very, very rare here. So what signs of increased unrest have shown up in recent days? Increased tremors 1.5 to 10.0 km beneath the crater have been recorded since August 2017.
In the latter part of October there was a small but significant swarm, some of these tremors were above 2.0. Since this time EQ activity has abated but with little swarms every now and then. A strong smell of sulfur from the River Kvíá persisted for over a week, indicating that an ice cauldron was probably emptying into the river – a surveillance flight was ordered to investigate things! A large cauldron in the ice was noted, this was around 1 km in diameter and about 18 m to 23 m deep with a sharply defined rim. The earth scientists say the development rate of this cauldron has been exceptionally fast. Additional monitoring equipment, including a dalek-like ash sensor, was installed over the weekend. Gas measurements have also been high – data and material collected at the weekend are still being evaluated. A large increase in the quantity and size of earthquakes would happen before an eruption, so an eruption is not imminent!
21.11.17 Photos from ESA, the European Space Agency showing the rapid development of cracks in the Öræfajökull cauldron were referred to by RÚV news. At the end of October no cracks existed, by the 8th November there were very obvious cracks, on the 20th November these had grown much larger.
22.11.17 A report from Veðurstofu, the Icelandic Met Office also refers to these ESA photos and says conductivity levels in the Kvíá river have been greatly increased over the last few days, today a level of 530 microSimens/cm was reached. Geothermal leakage into this river has been higher than normal for a few months, reassuringly water level measurements remain low.
22.11.17 A RÚV news report at 13.09 stated Rögnvaldur Ólafsson, Chief Officer of the Civil Protection Department has confirmed a finalized Civil Protection and Evacuation Plan will be ready later today.
22.11.17 An Emergency Evacuation Plan was published. If an eruption becomes imminent SMS messages will be sent to everyone in the Öræfajökull area. People will be instructed go to their nearest local evacuation gathering point at Svínafelli 1, Hof 1 or Hnappavellir 1 – no one will need to travel far. Red Cross Emergency Centers will also be set up at Kirkubæjarklaustur and Höfn. The Ring Road (Highway 1) would be closed between Lómagnúpur, near Svínafellsjökull in the west and Jökulsárlón in the east.
An eruption is NOT imminent at the moment but it is reassuring to know if this changes a comprehensive multi-agency safety plan would swing into action.
24.11.17 at 23:00 Many were quite surprised to read the comments of Ólafur G Flórenz, Head Earth Scientist and Geothermal Expert at Iceland Geo Survey (ÍSOR). In his opinion magma probably reached the surface via fractures in the rock beneath the 540 m thick ice around a month ago. So far as I know Ólafur G Flórenz is the only expert voicing this opinion.
25.11.17 RÚV News summarised the views of Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, who said the results of extremely extensive multi-disciplinary expert analysis did not support Ólafur G Flórenz’s conclusion. Chemical analysis of the Kvíá river water and other data indicates magma is very unlikely to have surfaced in the manner described, although there has certainly been inflation.
27.11.17 A meeting is scheduled this evening, Scientists intend to review the Emergency Evacuation Plan and representatives of the Civil Protection Department will go over the Plan with local residents. The aviation alert level remains at yellow.
29.11.17 RÚV News have published a report about the deepening Öræfajökull cauldron and a photograph which clearly shows the increased depth. This can only mean there is still intense heat underneath the cauldron or it has been emptying out. Myself, I go with the heat theory! Graphs published by the Icelandic Met Office show the increased EQ activity since September 2017.
An eruption in 1362 was huge, persisting for 5 months and ejecting vast volumes of tephra. A much smaller eruption in 1727/28 caused a glacial flood. Otherwise, Öræfajökull has been very quiet since Iceland was settled in around 870 AD/CE! The earth scientist are aware there have been small Öræfajökull eruptions at various times in history, so large eruptions are not inevitable!
On 26th/27th October two 4.7 earthquakes occurred, these were the largest since the eruption ceased on 28th February 2015. From early in November 2017 far higher than usual levels of electrical conductivity were measured in the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, together with higher water levels, with red discoloration of the river also being observed. Initially, it was thought these changes originated from the Kverkfjöll volcano, from which ice cauldrons do occasionally empty into this river. However, Kverkfjöll has now been ruled out and experts are pointing the finger of blame at Bárðarbunga, although they stress they have no firm conclusions! Could those 4.7 EQs have been a precursor to the raised conductivity in Jökulsá á Fjöllum?
The increasing geothermal activities beneath Bárdarbunga are well known, evidenced by the expansion and depth of ice cauldrons in recent months, there are also indications of higher pressure within BB, adding to the possibility of an eruption. The surveillance flight which inspected Öræfajökull on 17th November also flew over this volcano, one cauldron is now so hot that steam channels are being formed in the glacier, photos of the steaming cauldron were posted on the Icelandic news. An enormous amount of data is being reviewed but it is highly probable the source of the raised conductivity in the Jökulsá á Fjöllum is Bárðarbunga.
Bárðarbunga Latest News!
Photo from Bárðabunga 18.November 2017 | Photo by Andri Jóhannesson
During the writing of this blog (on 21.11.17) two 3.9 earthquakes occurred at 13:53 and 13:55 a few kilometers to the northeast of Bárðarbungu. Earth Scientist, Björn Oddson commented to RÚV News Agency that the EQs in BB had certainly risen sharply.
22.11.2017 Earth Scientist, Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson commented that the indications are Bárðarbungu is preparing for an eruption, since the last eruption ended the scientists have, until now, said “could be”, or “not likely to result in an eruption”. Scientific opinion is changing a little! The symptoms BB is exhibiting are not sufficient to generate a yellow aviation alert.
28.11.2017 A swarm of smallish EQs commenced this morning centered around Dyngjufjalla, which lies between Bárdarbunga and Mount Herðubreið. RÚV News reported at 08:13 this morning at 08:13 that had been more than 20 quakes. The largest EQ in this flurry was magnitude 2.0, with a 2.2 EQ being registered further afield in the Dreki area.
28.11.2017 update The swarm contained 50 to 60 small EQs, swarms such as these are measured a few times a year around this location.
Geothermal activity beneath the famous Katla Volcano has increased. One of the key factors measured is the electrical conductivity of Múlakvísl river at Mýrdalssandur, this river carries meltwater out from under the Mýrdalsjökull glacier which covers Katla. Usually, conductivity is somewhere between 80 and 200. In recent days the levels have been consistently over 600, often over 650, with a high of 684 being reached so far. Scientists have said for some months that Katla is preparing to erupt – this state of preparedness is not yet sufficient to trigger a yellow aviation alert. That particular honor has been accorded to Öræfajökull alone!
Katla Latest News
27.11.17 Measurements of electrical conductivity of the Múlakvísl river at Mýrdalssander have increased a little to around 700, this level has been stable for the last couple of days. Will it rise higher or go back to normal? At the moment no one knows – Katla is being carefully watched so if there are any developments we will certainly know about them!
28.11.17 Overnight electrical conductivity measurements in the Mílakvísl rivers rose quite sharply, climbing to 763 by 08:00, rising to over 800 by early afternoon. The water levels are a little high. Not significant enough for the experts to comment – certainly keeping volcano enthusiasts on their toes though! Will this now revert to normal or are these levels precursive to increased activities in Katla?
29.11.17 Múlakvísl conductivity readings have been quite amazing, shooting up to 1006 (08:33 this morning). The rate of increase has accelerated a lot overnight. Water height measurements remain similar to those recorded yesterday. Levels of H2S (hydrogen sulfide) have been high in recent days. The only imaginable cause is increased geothermal activity – is Katla building more power? The Icelandic Met Office said these changes are due to very cold weather.
30.11.17 Yesterday the Mílakvísl conductivity measurements went up to a crazy figure of over 1400, whilst water height remained the same which was totally bizarre. There has been a problem with the conductivity measuring device which is being sorted out!
Bardabunga Icelandic Volcano is always showing some activity. Last erupted in 2014 but where does the volcano stand today? Here you will get a chance to learn all about this beautiful Volcano and where it stands today. Will it be the next Icelandic eruption or is it quieting down?
All about Bardabunga volcano.
The North of Iceland is a whole new planet to discover. The Volcanic activity, the colorful mountains, and dramatic mountains make the most beautiful landscapes which Kay visited on the Goðafoss, Mývatn and Askja Volcano tour. Here she tells all. Happy reading!