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Seismic Activities in Bardarbunga Glacier

Saturday August 16 seismic activities increased very much in Bardarbunga Glacier, a very powerful volcano in north-west part of Vatnajökull Glacier. The seismic activities have gone to such level that an alert has been issued. A volcanic eruption could start any time soon.

When an alert like this is issued it is done to prepare everybody around the volcano for the possibility of eruption. It does not mean that it is certain that an eruption will take place. Actually, it is more likely that the seismic activities will slow down without an eruption.

As with ALL seismic activities and volcanic eruption in Iceland, the affected area is relatively small to the size of the country. It is highly unlikely that any area outside the area closest to the possible eruption will be affected and then, if that will be the case, the area that will be flooded by the melted ice from the glacier should the eruption take place underneath the glacier.

Update August 25, 11:00 AM GMT As of now no eruptions has taken place. The seismic activities (earthquakes) have grown significantly in the past few days and moved north towards the volcano Askja. All the major activities are isolated with two areas. One is inside the caldera of Bardarbunga Volcano, while the other is north of Vatnajokull Glacier. Scientists think that is it will erupt, the eruption will not be subglacial, meaning that neither there will me much ash coming from such eruption nor catastrophic floodings. This means that the worst case scenario is less and less likely as things progress and instead of getting an catastrophic event we could get a relatively peaceful "tourist" eruption. That would all depend on where a fissure would open up (if at all) as many lakes are near by and also the river Jokulsa a Fjollum that is a massive stream. Seimic activities for the last 48 hours August 25 at 10:05 AM GMT

Update September 3, 11:00 AM GMT Since last update things have changed a lot. An eruption start early morning August 31 in the area of Holuhraun. A fissure actually opened first up on August 29, but that eruption only lasted about 4 hours. Two days later the current eruption started. But instead of me writing new update every once in awhile, then I have added a link to the website of Morgunbladid (a news paper) where the they publish coverage of the eruption in English. There you will be able to get the latest news. Bardarbunga news in English

Travelling to Iceland is safe
There no doubt that travelling to Iceland is 100% safe. And travelling in Iceland is also 100% safe as long as people stay away from the area that has been closed off already and might be closed off if the eruption will start. Other parts of Vatnajökull Glacier are safe. Visiting Lake Myvatn area is safe. Visiting Skaftafell in south of Vatnajökull Glacier is safe. Going to north of Iceland, south of Iceland, east of Iceland, and west of Iceland is as safe now as ever before. Going into the highland outside the closed area is as safe as before. Of course travelling in Iceland, as any other country in the world, carries all kind of risk, but despite this possible eruption or any other possible eruption in the future, Iceland is among the safest countries in the world.

About Bardarbunga Volcano
Bardarbunga Volcano is the second highest part of Iceland, reaching around 2000 m above sea level. What makes Bardarbunga Volcano very special is its location. It is located directly on top of the magma plum or hot spot underneath Iceland. This makes Bardarbunga Volcano very dangerous for those close by, but having in mind that it is the middle of nowhere decreases the risk associated with the volcano. Having said that, catastrophic floods are very often associated with eruptions in Bardarbunga Volcano. These floods can go in four directions but it would take a monstrous eruption for the flood water to go but one of these directions. Some of these floods have carved the Jökulsargljufur Canyon where Dettifoss and Hljoduklettar are and then Asbyrgi further north. Such floods have not happened since Iceland got settled in the ninth century.

An eruption could also take place outside of the glacier. That is what happened in 870, 1477 and 1862-64. The first of the three eruptions was one of the biggest in modern Icelandic history. Ash and tephra that mounted to 34 cubic kilometers came airborne. Compare that to the 0.25 cubic kilometers that came from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 and halted air traffic through Europe and part of North-America. A layer of ash covered most of Iceland. This ash is today used as reference to put events in time. In 1477 a long fissure opened up with a lot of lava coming up. While in 1862-64 the eruption was relatively small.

But going further back in time the Bardarbunga Volcano System is responsible for the biggest lava flows in modern times (post ice-age times) on Earth. The Thjorsarhraun Lava Field covers 950 square kilometers of land and created the shoreline between Thjorsa River and Olfusa River in South Iceland. 950 square kilometers is about 1 per cent of the surface of Iceland and two-third of the London area.

Bardarbunga Volcano does not erupt frequently, so we might be witnessing a historic event. If it erupts it will be magnificent display. It will have disruptive affects. It could cause danger to people close to the volcano, mainly travelers (hikers, bikers, and jeepers) in the area north and north-west of Vatnajokull Glacier, because of floods or fissures opening up with no notice. It might disrupt flight in Iceland, around Iceland and even in Europe. Ash from the volcano could travel far and cause irritation. And finally, if the eruption does not take place underneath the glacier, we could see a lot of lava surfacing. But this is no different from most the other volcanos in Iceland apart from the magnitude.

Update August 25, 11:00 AM GMT The seismic activities currently taking place around Bardarbunga Volcano have added a valuable information about the volcano. Perhaps the event have just brought together the pieces and helped scientist to paint a better picture of how the volcano Bardarbunga behaves. What we have witnessed in the past few days has taken scientist by surprise but perhaps should not have.

A new scenario has emerged that Bardarbunga Volcano act more as a "feeder" to the many volcanos and fissures that have erupted in the Bardarbunga system, sending lava from the caldera through underground dykes where it either creates intrusion in the ground or surfaces in an eruption. Looking at the eruptive history of Bardarbunga that can be found on The Smithsonian Institution's website (see: Global Volcanism Program: Bardarbunga under Eruptive history) one can see that no big subglacial eruption is listed for the past 9100 years. If eruption is subglacial then either the knowledge of the eruptions is based on ice-core data or they were considered small with little disturbance. Then there are mentioned few possible subglacial eruptions that not even modern time technology can confirm took place despite presumably happening in the past 15 years. On the other hand few very big eruptions have taken place outside the glacial area.

Despite that eruption in the main caldera of Bardarbunga volcano is coming less and less likely, it could still happen. The catastrophic floodings that created Jokulsargljufur Canyon and Asbyrgi are the proof that such eruption have happened in the past and what has once happened can be repeated. Perhpas we can thank the ice-cap on Bardarbunga that the magma below is not able to "uncork" the obstruction preventing an eruption in the caldera. The weight of at least 800 m of ice is most likely too great for the caldera to blow off its top.

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