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  • Geology

    Quick primer on Bárðarbunga, Iceland's most powerful volcano

    By Staff

    The 2014 Holuhraun eruption The latest eruption in the Bárðarbunga system produced the largest lava field in Iceland since the 18th century. Photo/

    Bárðarbunga volcano, hidden beneath the ice cap of Vatnajökull glacier in the Central Highlands, is one of the two largest and most powerful volcanoes in Iceland. Katla, the other, is located beneath Mýrdalsjökull glacier in South Iceland. Both have been showing significant levels of activity seismic activity in the past several months. 

    Read more: All of Iceland‘s major volcanoes showing unusually high levels of activity

    Second highest mountain in Iceland

    Bárðarbunga cauldrons in Vatnajökull
    Hidden beneath the ice A cauldron in the ice cap on Bárðarbunga Photo/Icelandic Met Office

    Bárðarbunga is at the center of a 200 km (124 mi) long volcanic system, one of the largest on the planet. The 10 km (6,2 mi) wide caldera is located underneath a 600 to 850-meter (1,968 to 2,788 ft.) thick ice cap in Vatnajökull glacier.

    Bárðarbunga is also the second highest mountain in Iceland, measuring 2,009 meters (6,591 ft) above sea level. It was once believed Bárðarbunga, which is a thick ice bulge which rises nearly 1000 m (3,280 ft) above the surrounding landscape was actually the tallest mountain in Iceland.

    Hvannadalshnúkur peak in Öræfajökull glacier, another massive volcano in the southern part of Vatnajökull glacier, is actually the tallest peak in Iceland, at 2,110 meters (6,921 ft). 

    The Bárðarbunga caldera The edges of the caldera rise 700 above its bottom Photo/Institute of Earth Sciences

    The name of Bárðarbunga translates as "The Bulge of Bárður", after Gnúpa Bárður, one of the settlers of Iceland, according to the Book of Settlements. The first people known to have climbed Bárðarbunga were a team of German, Austrian and Italian scientists who climbed the mountain in 1935. 

    Center of a massive volcanic system
    The Bárðarbunga caldera is the center of a larger volcanic system, the largest in Iceland and one of the largest in the world. It has actually produced more lava in the past 10,000 years than any other volcano on Earth. It is composed of a 200 km (124 mi.) long and 25 km (15.5 mi) wide fissure swarm which stretches from the Central Highlands north of Vatnajökull glacier to the Veiðivötn area west of the glacier. 

    Read more: Video: A group of skiers climb and then descend Hvannadalshnjúkur, the highest peak in Iceland

    A second central volcano is located in the Bárðarbunga system, Hamarinn, also known as Loki or Fögrufjöll. Hamarinn is hidden beneath Vatnajökull, to the south-west of Bárðarbunga.

    Eruptions in the Bárðarbunga system have frequently taken place in the fissures north and west of Vatnajökull. The last such eruption took place in 2014-2015 along a fissure in the Holuhraun lava field in the Central Highlands north of the glacier.  

    Bárðarbunga system
    Bárðarbunga system The green in the insert map shows the Bárðarbunga system. Green in the larger map shows lava flows from Bárðarbunga since Iceland was settled. Photo/Icelandic Met Office


    Current activity began with the Holuhraun eruption
    The current seismic episode began following the 2014-2015 Holuhraun eruption. The seismic activity is most likely caused by the re-filling of the magma chambers which were emptied in the Holuhraun eruption.

    Read more: See the first photos from inside the burnt out Holuhraun crater

    The Holuhraun eruption, which lasted for 181 days (31st August 2014 to 27th February 2015), took place north of the glacier, about 41 km (25.5 mi) north of the caldera, and it left the largest lava field in Iceland since the 1700s. The new lava covers 85 square km (32.8 sq. mi). For scale, imagine an area roughly 1.5 times larger than Manhattan island covered with new 7 to 30 meters (21–90 feet) thick lava. 

    The holuhraun eruption Vatnajökull at the bottom of the photo. The caldera lake Askja to the north of the fissure eruption. Photo/NASA Earth Observatory

    If you want to see what the lava flow would have looked like in your town or city you can also head over to the interactive Holuhraun Lava Flow website, key in a zip code and then sit back and watch what the eruption would have looked like if it had come up in our own back yard!

    Largest eruptions in Icelandic history
    One of the reasons scientists keep a close eye on Bárðarbunga is that based on the history of the system, the Holuhraun eruption is likely to be followed by further eruptions. Historically the Bárðarbunga system erupts in drawn-out episodes which include several smaller eruptions, accompanied by intense seismic activity and increased geothermal activity.

    Read more: Holuhraun eruption was actually preceded by four sub-glacial eruptions in the Bárðarbunga volcano

    Bárðarbunga earthquake monitoring station, Kista mountain
    Kept under close surveillance One of the many Bárðarbunga earthquake monitoring stations, at Kista mountain, Photo/Icelandic Met Office.

    The system has erupted on average once every fifty years, with large eruptions every 250 to 600 years. In 1477 the Bárðarbunga system produced the largest known volcanic eruption in Iceland after settlement, and one of the most powerful eruptions in the past 10,000 years in Iceland.

    This eruption, which took place in the Veiðivötn region in the western end of the system had a Volcanic Explosive Index, VEI of 6. The VEI index measures the distribution of ash and volcanic materials from an eruption. 

    No imminent danger of eruption
    While Bárðarbunga has been very active since the end of the Holuhraun eruption in 2015, with dozens of large 3+ and 4+ earthquakes, geophysicists at the University of Iceland and the Icelandic Meteorological Office believe there is no imminent threat of an eruption. The IMO continues to monitor its activity closely, as an eruption in Bárðarbunga could pose significant challenges for airline travel in the Northern hemisphere.


  • Culture

    Reykjavík on comedian Ricky Gervais' list of favorite places

    By Staff

    Funny man Host Stephen Colbert asked Ricky Gervais about a photo he had posted of himself during his stay in Iceland. Photo/Vísir.

    The British comedian Ricky Gervais has revealed that Reykjavík is one of his favorite places on the schedule of his Humanity tour this year. Gervais performed his stand-up routine to a sold-out Harpa music and concert hall last month.

    Gervais was one of the guests on American talk show The Late Show last night. There he told host Stephen Colbert that he had been especially pleased with his visit to Iceland. The comedian praised Icelanders for being laid-back and the beauty of Icelandic nature.

    Elves attract Colbert to Iceland
    In response, Colbert displayed a surprisingly in-depth knowledge of the supposed Icelandic belief in elves which has sometimes interfered in road works and other construction work. Despite Gervais' protestations, Colbert insisted that the majority of Icelanders believe in elves.

    "Say there's a rock outcropping right here that is traditionally the home of these elvish creatures, they will build the road around it rather than disturb the home of the elf," said Colbert whose interest in visiting Iceland is due to his admiration of the author J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings.

    The exchange on Iceland starts after around six minutes of the video below.

  • Travel

    Delay in Vestmannaeyjar Island ferry schedule due to malfunction

    By Staff

    All at sea The ferry Baldur currently sails between the Vestmannaeyjar Islands and mainland Iceland. Photo/Vísir.

    An overheating engine temporarily stopped the Vestmannaeyjar Islands ferry Baldur when it was on its way to Landeyjahöfn harbour today, causing some delays to its schedule. The malfunction was due to a mistake in a recent repair made on the ferry.

    The malfunction delayed the trip from Vestmannaeyjar Islands scheduled at 13:45 and the 14:15 trip from Landeyjahöfn. A spokesman for the ferry company told local news site that he expected the ferry to make up the lost time in two round trips.

    The malfunction occurred at 13:18 when the ferry was sailing north of Elliðaey Island. A tow boat was sent from Vestmannaeyjar Islands but was not needed after a successful repair at sea.

  • Politics

    Video: Icelandic president beaten at his near post by Faroese schoolboy

    By Staff

    Goalie The president of Iceland high-fiving some local schoolboys in Þórshöfn. Photo/Vísir.

    Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, the president of Iceland, was defenseless in goal against a swift counterattack by a local schoolboy during an official visit to the Faroe Islands yesterday. During a visit in Þórshöfn, the president found time to play a game of football with some local kids. A video that has since surfaced shows the president being unable to stop a fierce shot at his goal.

    Read more: President of Iceland on official visit in Faroe Islands plays football with local kids

    The local tourism office Visit Faroe Islands tweeted a video of the president, dressed in suit, playing in goal on an astroturf pitch next to Argjamaharsskóli elementary school. Despite his best efforts, the president was unable to stop a shot at his near post and let in a goal. 

    Apart from playing football, the president and his wife, Eliza Reed, have met with local politicians, attended official functions and visited cultural centers.



  • Economy

    Shortage of domestic pilots forces WOW air to look abroad

    By Staff

    Budget airline WOW air recently announced it had purchased seven new airplanes. Photo/Vísir

    Almost half of the pilots currently employed by Icelandic budget airline WOW air are foreign nationals. The recent boom in tourism in Iceland and the aggressive expansion of the airline have meant there are not enough domestic pilots to man its fleet. Most of the foreign pilots come from Western Europe.

    WOW air has expanded its operation considerably since the airline was founded six years ago. It now runs a fleet of thirteen aircraft but aims to bring that number to 24 by the end of next year in an effort to double its number of passengers.

    Read more: WOW air has purchased seven new planes, aims at doubling its operations in next few years

    "There's a persistent shortage of pilots. The flight schools can't keep up supplying new pilots to both airlines. WOW air is growing aggressively and it needs people to fly these planes. They simply don't exist in Iceland, particularly experienced pilots," the leader of the Wow air pilots' union said to local news site Vísir.

  • Culture

    Help Wanted: Swimming pool in remote North Iceland fjord can't open due to lack of workers

    By Staff

    Worker Shortage The ad the local council took out offering jobs at the swimming pool in Öxarfjörður.

    Plans to open a new geothermal swimming pool in the remote northern fjord of Öxarfjörður has proven more challenging than expected due to difficulties in finding workers. Only one person has applied for a summer job at the new pool five months after the local council first asked for applications.

    Lots of jobs to be had in the area
    Unemployment in North Iceland is exceptionally low this summer. So low in fact, that the local council of Norðurþing is finding it difficult to open the swimming pool in Lundur in Öxarfjörður.

    Read more: Iceland has the lowest unemployment rate in the entire OECD

    "The job situation is good [in the area] and there are a lot of jobs to be had" a local official told local newspaper Fréttablaðið.

    Workers must be healthy and pass swimming pool standards
    The local council first took out an ad for the positions at the pool five months ago. People willing to fill a full-time as well a part-time position are being sought for the summer.

    "The job includes working in the reception, supervision and service for guests and cleaning of the premises and the pool. The applicant must be of good health and pass a qualification standard for swimming pools," the ad reads in part.

    For those interested in working at a geothermal swimming pool in a remote Icelandic fjord, the local council is still taking applications until the 26th of May.

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