Bárðarbunga Volcanic Activity Resumes

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Iceland Magazine Article: Earthquakes keep hitting Iceland’s most powerful volcano


Yet another earthquake struck at Bárðarbunga volcano (31 May 2016) according to The Icelandic Met Office (IMO).

Earthquakes have been picking up pace in the huge sub-glacial caldera, located in Vatnajökull glacier in the central highlands.

The volcanic system, which has the Bárðarbunga caldera as its centre, is one of the largest on the globe. The last eruption in the system ended on 27 February 2015, having lasted 181 days, from 31 August 2014. The eruption was located at the Holuhraun lava field, in an ice-free zone about 41 km (25.5 mile) north of Bárðarbunga, but was directly connected to subsidence in the center of the sub-glacial caldera.

Read more: The eruption in Holuhraun is over

Bárðarbunga is the second highest mountain in Iceland, measuring 2,009 metres (6,591 ft) above sea level. It is probably the most powerful volcano in the country. The system and fissure swarm of the caldera is 190 km (118 mile) long and 25 km (12.5 mile) wide.

Bárðarbunga has erupted on average once every 50 years, with large eruptions every 250-600 years. The largest known volcanic eruption in Iceland after settlement took place in Bárðarbunga in 1477. It was one of the most powerful eruptions in the past 10,000 years in Iceland.

An eruption in Bárðarbunga could pose significant challenges for airline travel in the Northern hemisphere. Scientists keep monitoring the volcano closely.

Around 300 earthquakes last week
Last week (23 to 29 May 2016) IMO’s South Iceland Lowland (SIL) earthquake monitoring network picked up around 300 earthquakes around the country. The largest earthquakes of the week were of magnitudes 3.4 and 3.3, both located in Bárðarbunga.

Why this action?
This kind of activity is not uncommon. The reason for Iceland being constantly shaken and stirred is that the country lies on the divergent boundary between the Eurasian plate and the North American plate. It also lies above a hotspot, the Iceland plume, which is believed to have caused the formation of the island some 16 to 18 million years ago. Accordingly Iceland has repeated eruptions and seismic activity, and of course, an abundance of geothermal energy.

What is the SIL system?
IMO’s automatic SIL (South Iceland Lowland) monitoring network has been in operation for almost two decades. Besides evaluating source function and mechanism information carried from below by micro-earthquakes, it provides near real-time information that is used as the basis for an alert system.


Possibilities for ICE2017

If this resumed activity continues over the next 12+ months, we may be in for a real treat when we return back to Iceland in Summer 2017. During our ICE2015 Expedition, we were hoping to witness spectacular volcanic eruptions, but unfortunately the activity “shut-down” in February 2015, leaving us with only the steaming (still hot) newly formed lava fields to visit (see ICE2015 Blog Articles: Day 8 and Quadcopter Footage over Bárðarbunga / Holuhraun New Lava). We are quite hopeful that we may witness some spectacular revived activity in Summer 2017 – let’s wait and see…

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