Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag

Geology

Volcanic systems in Vatnajökull under close surveillance: Increased activity in Kverkfjöll mountains

By Staff

  • The NW edge of Vatnajökull Kverkfjöll mountains are in the upper left corner. Bárðarbunga is located at the center right edge of the photo. Photo/GVA

Scientists at the Icelandic Meteorological Office believe they are closer to determining the location of increased geothermal or volcanic activity beneath the north-western part of Vatnajökull glacier. Electrical conductivity in Jökulsá á Fjöllum, one of the glacial rivers carrying melt water from the northern edges of Vatnajökull glacier has been growing in recent weeks, reaching the highest levels ever recorded in the river.

Read more: Scientists monitor spike in geothermal or volcanic activity beneath Vatnajökull glacier

Jökulsá á Fjöllum

Jökulsá á Fjöllum Travellers are asked not to venture close to the headwaters of the river at the glacier's edge Photo/Pjetur

The river has also turned an unusually deep red. A strong smell of sulfur emanates from the river. All of these are sure signs of geothermal and/or volcanic activity beneath the glacier. Scientists have so far been unable to reach the area or survey it from air due to bad weather in the region 

All evidence points to Kverkfjöll
Scientists at the Icelandic Meteorological Office now believe the rising conductivity and sulfuric smell are caused by a change in activity in a lagoon known as Gengissig in Kverkfjöll mountains, a mountain range on the north-western edge of Vatnajökull, east of Bárðarbunga volcano. 

The lagoon is created by meltwater from the glacier, created when the ice is melted by a nearby geothermal area. The lagoon is known to empty itself regularly, causing a small glacial outburst flood in Jökulsá á Fjöllum. Initially scientists suspected the increased conductivity and sulfuric smell were caused by activity in Bárðarbunga volcano.

Bárðarbunga not yet ruled out
While Bárðarbunga has not been ruled out yet, comparison of satellite radar images of the glacier from October 26 and November 7 suggest changes in activity in the geothermal area at Gengissig. A highland guard in a cabin in Kverkfjöll mountains has also said he noticed an increase in sulfuric smell on Sunday, suggesting the changes in Jökulsá á Fjöllum were caused by activity in Kverkfjöll, rather than Bárðarbunga.

Kverkfjöll mountains are an old volcanic system known for significant and powerful geothermal activity. The last major eruption in Kverkfjöll is believed to have taken place 1300 years ago. Scientists believe some minor eruptions could have taken place in the remote mountains in the past few hundred years, but the likelihood of an eruption in Kverkfjöll is believed to be minimal.

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