Iceland earthquakes continue, evacuations begin

Posted by on Aug 20, 2014

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Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupting in April 2010, which shut down transatlantic and European air travel. Officials are closely monitoring the situation at Bárðarbunga volcano, which may have a similar eruption. (Wikimedia Commons)

Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupting in April 2010, which shut down transatlantic and European air travel. Officials are closely monitoring the situation at Bárðarbunga volcano, which may have a similar eruption. (Wikimedia Commons)

As the earthquakes continue at Bárðarbunga volcano, under Iceland’s largest glacier, local authorities and residents have become increasingly concerned about the risk of outburst floods, though the warning remains at code orange. They recognize that large quantities of water could rush down river valleys if magma should rise to the surface. As a precautionary measure, residents and tourists have been evacuated from two areas north of the glacier. Icelandic authorities have also prepared contingency plans in case floods threaten major hydroelectric facilities.

Map of road conditions and evacuation routes. (Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration)

Map of road conditions and evacuation routes. (Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration)

Another site reports that a number of farmers have rounded up their sheep and horses, who range freely to forage in the summer and early fall. The animals are confined indoors during the long Icelandic winters, where the farmers must supply them with fodder. The farmers and animals alike do not enjoy an early round-up, but the risk of losing animals to floods or to ash-clouds is too great to dismiss.

There have been many earthquakes in the last two days, since GlacierHub last reported on this situation. The first map below, from the Icelandic Meteorological Office, shows how the quakes are tightly clustered. The second, a visualization by Bæring Gunnar Steinþórsson, shows the quakes in three dimensions. His site, http://baering.github.io/, allows viewers to adjust the angle of view and the period that is covered.

Iceland earthquakes wednesday august 20

Bárðarbunga 3D visualization

As recent reports by Eric Holthaus in Slate and by Dave McGarvie in The Conversation  have discussed, there are a variety of types of floods and explosive ash releases that could occur if lava were released at Bárðarbunga, under a layer of ice that is 400 meters thick. it is unlikely that an eruption would disrupt air traffic as seriously as the 2010 event at Eyjafjallajökull. Holthaus modeled a likely scenario of ash transport, should an eruption occur, which shows that it would pass over major airports, but mentions that fewer flights would probably be disrupted, thanks to better forecasts and more effective regulations.

Possible ash plumes, based on data from NOAA. (Eric Holthaus/Slate)

Possible ash plumes, based on data from NOAA. (Eric Holthaus/Slate)

Nonetheless, as the Icelandic anthropologist Ásdís Jónsdóttir wrote in a recent email, “We have to keep in mind that there have indeed been regular eruptions… in the past.” The twelve hundred years of Iceland’s recorded history and the geological evidence from before that demonstrate the great power of Iceland’s volcanoes and glaciers. For the time being the surface of Bárðarbunga  remains calm, as shown by these photos that Jónsdóttir took on a recent trip.

Iceland's Bárðarbunga volcano in 2009. (Ásdís Jónsdóttir)

Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcano in 2009. (Ásdís Jónsdóttir)

Iceland's Bárðarbunga volcano in 2009

Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcano in 2009. (Ásdís Jónsdóttir)

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One Comment

  1. Here is a good source with all important information and links on one page:

    http://www.lukas-gawenda.de/links/island-vulkan-erdbeben/

    Kind regards,
    Lukas

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