Iceland Mag

8 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag

Nature

Scientists keep a close eye on Bárðarbunga volcano as seismic activity keeps growing

By Staff

  • Bárðarbunga Located under Vatnajökull glacier, Bárðarbunga is one of the most powerful volcanoes in Iceland, and the centre of a giant volcanic system in the central highlands. Photo/GVA

Growing seismic activity in the Bárðarbunga volcano and its immediate vicinity. The volcano, which is located underneath the Vagnajökull glacier is one of the largest and most powerful in Iceland. More than 6,200 separate earthquakes of various sizes have been recorded since the end of the Holuhraun eruption North of Vatnajökull glacier in 2015. The activity has been picking up recently, increasing the possibility of renewed volcanic activity in the Bárðarbunga system.

Read more: The huge Bárðarbunga volcano in northern Vatnajökull glacier might be gearing up for an eruption

Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, professor of geophysics at the faculty of earth sciences at the University of Iceland told the local newspaper Fréttablaðið that the seismic activity had been increasing in Bárðarbunga since last fall. “We can’t be sure what exactly is going on, but it seems the recent activity is in reaction to activity in Bárðarbunga and the eruption in Holuhraun in the winter of 2014-2015.” The recent earthquake swarms have occurred relatively close to the surface which he argues suggests the area might be recovering from the eruption which produced the largest lava in Iceland since 1783.

Scientists are keeping a close eye on the developments and the scientific advisory board of the Iceland Civil Protection is planning to meet to evaluate the situation. Magnús Tumi stresses that nobody believes there is an immediate danger: “Nobody things there is an impending crisis, or anything like that. We just have to make sure we know what is going on.”

Read more: An eruption in Bárðarbunga will trigger massive floods

Ari Trausti Guðmundsson a geophysisist and author who has studied the data on seismic activity in Bárðarbunga told Fréttablaðið that the activity seemed to indicate the volcano itself is expanding. “Many of the earthquakes could be caused by growing pressure in the magma chamber itself, deep underneath the volcanic system.” He argues that there are some indications the development now underneath the Bárðarbunga volcano mirror developments under the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in the lead up to the 2010 eruption.

“But I stress that the data and my interpretation are not a prediction of further volcanic activity or an eruption. But it is sufficient to say that the possibility of an eruption has increased. Nobody can say with certainty what will happen, since the current development can either stop or continue.”

Over 20 eruptions since the Viking settlement of Iceland 
Bárðarbunga, which is located in North-Western part of Vatnajökull glacier, is the second highest mountain in Iceland. It is also one of the most powerful volcanoes in Iceland. It is the centre of an enormous volcanic system which stretches from Dyngjuháls ridge in the north to Torfajökull glacier in the south. The fissure swarm which makes up the system is 190-200 km (118-125 miles) long and 25-30 km (15-18 miles) wide.

The Bárðarbunga system has erupted at least 20 times since Iceland was settled, with the last major series of eruptions taking place in the northern end of the system during the first decades of the 18th century. The largest known volcanic eruption in Iceland after settlement took place in Bárðarbunga in 1477. This eruption, which was one of the most powerful eruptions in the past 10,000 years in Iceland, had a Volcanic Explosive Index, VEI of 6. The VEI index measures the distribution of ash and volcanic materials from an eruption. An eruption in Bárðarbunga could pose significant challenges for airline travel in the Northern hemisphere.

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