Probable eruption at Bárðarbunga

The southern end of the Bárdarbunga fissure swarm known as Veidivötn taken earlier today. Photograph taken by Eggert Norðdahl, all rights belong to the photographer, used by explicit permission. To obtain rights email Volcanocafé.

The southern end of the Bárdarbunga fissure swarm known as Veidivötn taken earlier today. Photograph taken by Eggert Norðdahl, all rights belong to the photographer, used by explicit permission. To obtain rights email Volcanocafé.

Before I start writing I wish to reiterate the following. The official judgement on any eruption in Iceland is solely within the hands of Icelandic Met Office (IMO) and Almannavarnadeild ríkislögreglustjóra. Untill they release a Stonetablet stating that an eruption has started there is officially no eruption.

Ash from an eruption

I have now had several people who work with air traffic in various capacities asking me what to expect. I am highly reticent to give any answer on this. The qualified authorities are in given order London VAAC and IMO. Heed their warnings.

After all this is a scientific blog, not an official warning site. That being said, I will give a few parameters about what I think is possible, but it will be a really wide spread since a lot of what is happening is in unknown territory. This will just be the general parameters for various types of eruption (in probability order), wind and weather will take care of the actual dynamics. Also, the ash itself is an important parameter that we do not really know a lot about since it was such a long time since Bárðarbunga had its last major eruption (not saying that this will be a major eruption). If it is fine grained it is more problematic, if it is coarse it will cause fewer problems.

  1. A local fissure eruption. This would give limited ash and no high ash column (7km tops), unless the initial phase is explosive. In that case you might get all the way up to a 15km ash column.
  2. Main eruption at Bárdarbunga central volcano. This would normally produce a VEI-2 eruption, perhaps a VEI-3. In this case I would say anything from a 5km to 15km ash column, and an eruption that lasts anything from a few hours to a couple of weeks. If the fresh magma hits an old pocket of rhyolitic mush (old stale magma) all bets are off, then expect anything from 10km to 30km ash column and widespread ash all over the area the wind blows to.
  3. Kistufell central volcano. All bets are off on this one, we are talking about a volcano that has not erupted for the last 8 000 years. You would need a crystal ball to predict what could happen; I do not do crystal balls. I leave crystal balling to people that wears tinfoil hats.
  4. Rifting fissure eruption. Forget flying for half a year. I am here stating that this is unlikely, but I am giving this as the improbable end parameter.

Now, do you guys understand how silly it is to even ask that question? There are no answers to what you are asking since we do not yet know what kind of eruption will happen. Just wait and see, and read the London VAAC before taking off. I am sorry if I can’t give the answers you hoped for.

Personally I am looking forward to my air trip to Guatemala in October if that is any inkling to what I believe. Well, that being said let us now go into the nitty gritty.

Volcanocafé scientific flyover

Sidujökull, the area that the Laki fissure swarm exits from. Photograph taken by Eggert Norðdahl, all rights belong to the photographer, used by explicit permission. To obtain rights email Volcanocafé.

Sidujökull, the area that the Laki fissure swarm exits from. Photograph taken by Eggert Norðdahl, all rights belong to the photographer, used by explicit permission. To obtain rights email Volcanocafé.

Earlier today our fantastic house photographer Eggert Norðdahl did a flyover over the area to take photographs. Sadly clouds covered parts of the area, and no visible signs were available. But we got beautiful before the eruption images.

If the weather is good we will get aerial photography when the eruption starts (or becomes visible).

I would like to state that Volcanocafé have been granted publishing rights, if any news agency wish to use the images, or wish to come into contact with Eggert Norðdahl for more images of the upcoming eruption, just send an email to us at our Volcanocafé email.

GPS signals

Image from Sigrún Hreinsdottirs GPS-page.

Image from Sigrún Hreinsdottirs GPS-page.

The GPS trend is now clear with very rapid motion of all nearby stations. The speed and direction is in line with a medium sized to large intrusion of new magma into the volcanic system. Click on the images for larger view. Note that Dungjuháls GPS has moved west 30mm and north 30mm in two days. That would indicate that the intrusion is to the souteast of the station.

Image from Sigrún Hreinsdottirs GPS-page.

Image from Sigrún Hreinsdottirs GPS-page.

The Hamarinn GPS is moving almost straight south indicating that the center of inflation is north of the GPS.

Harmonic tremor

Image from the Icelandic Met Office.

Image from the Icelandic Met Office.

At 10.15 local time harmonic tremor started to be visible at Dyngjuháls seismometer. At 10.40 an uptick in earthquakes started and harmonic tremor became visible on almost every seismometer on Iceland. It is unclear if that was a signal of magma breaking through under the ice, or if it is from massive degassing as magma rises upwards.

Earthquakes

So far the largest earthquake is an M4.5, this is not as large as I expected prior to an eruption. But, it is possible that I was over interpreting data from the Lakí eruption and that there is no need for earthquakes above M5 prior to onset of eruption.

Conclusion

Vatnajökull photographed from West in the direction of attention. Photograph taken by Eggert Norðdahl, all rights belong to the photographer, used by explicit permission. To obtain rights email Volcanocafé.

Vatnajökull photographed from West in the direction of attention. Photograph taken by Eggert Norðdahl, all rights belong to the photographer, used by explicit permission. To obtain rights email Volcanocafé.

Once again, IMO and Almannavarnadeild ríkislögreglustjóra are the ones publishing official statements. What I write are just the musings from someone who has read everything ever published on Icelandic volcanism.

Currently I favor two options. Either a small eruption started around 10.40 local time, if so it is most likely a small fissure eruption between Bárdarbunga and Kistufell central volcanoes. Normally it takes a day or two for those to go through the thick glacier ice, if they even do that.

My second option is that the signals are from magma rapidly moving upwards in one of the central volcanoes. If it is in Bárdarbunga we will most likely see an eruption soon. If it is at Kistufell we have 3 options. 1, it will be a drawn out process before the eruptions starts due to the magma having to hammer its way through a thick top layer. 2, we will see an increase in earthquake size until we see M5 earthquakes. 3, this is the boring option that says that the magma will not have the energy to break through the top layer.

There is also a third option that this is the start of a larger fissure eruption. That would most likely involve quite a lot of heavy earthquakes.

In the end we are in the beginning of things. I have been convinced for the last 2 weeks that we are moving towards a possible eruption. Problem is just that the signals are still not clear on were the center of attention really is. If I am lucky I will get what happens before it happens, but if not I will be pleasantly surprised.

CARL

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437 thoughts on “Probable eruption at Bárðarbunga

  1. Question: If we were to see a second diapir of magma from the plume intrude into Bardarbunga, would we see lower overall earthquake activity (at least at first) since many of the conduits have already been forced open by the first batch of magma?

    It seems like Bardarbunga itself is starting to pick up again in fresh quakes after a period of quakes dying down there.

  2. Well I think we all want to see an eruption (as long as it causes no damage). That’s why we see more than it actually is. What we have is a rather stong earthquake swarm at a clearly volcanic location, which did not had large earthquake swarms in past years. Of course this can lead to an eruption, but I would guess we don’t have an eruption until now.

  3. 1.)
    Campi flegrei has a nice uplift again.

    http://www.ov.ingv.it/ov/bollettini-campi-flegrei/Bollettino_Flegrei_2014_08_12.pdf

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    2.)
    IMO corrected some quakes around the Bardarbunga caldera. Nice depths btw.
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    3.)
    Here are trajectories for 3500m, in case of a fissure eruption, tho I probably have set the height to high for gasses. It goes in the good direction, away from highly populated areas. At least at this level.

    And as requested, 10.000m flow trajectories for a later date.

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    4.)
    And a random example of one of my custom plots, showing meridional wind component (north-south) at 200mb, which is around 10-11km (relative).

  4. Just came from a trip to Veidivotn, a day long; we also drove towards Hamarinn (and Bárdarbunga). Shortly before Jokulheimar, the park ranger said the jeep track was being close due to safety reasons, and so it fits with this new story of evacuation of the highlands.
    Actually I decided to go there just to see the area before any potencial eruption.

    The giant dome shapped Bardarbunga was visible all day long, as weather was clear, it was beautiful, maybe I will post a few pics. The entire Veidivotn region is a pearl of beauty, but further northeast as it approaches Jokulheimar, it is a very desolated area. From the geological point of view its an unforgetable trip.

    Now we are going to rest and cook a nice dinner. Need to take a shower too. I am very very ashy. There was a mild sandstorm at the end of the afternoon due to strong winds.

    • You are so lucky to live in such a remarkable and beautiful country. I’d love to see the pictures.

  5. Atleast Bardarbunga doesn’t seems in hurry ;) .

    Does anyone know what the influence is of an ashcloud at thunderstorms. Not by an erupting volcano, but after it travelled from Iceland to (North)Western Europe?

    I ask this because the last few weeks we are getting battered by one thunderstorm/heavy showers after another. The Southern North Sea between Belgium, England and the Netherlands is thanks to the warm winter, spring and early summer now around 20°C warm. The last weeks (since ex-Bertha), The jetstream is bringing cold air from the North Atlantic straight to Western Europe. Today the max temperature was here around 15°C and tonight temperatures will fall beneath 10°C (Hautes fagnes to 4°C) So Warm sea water+ cold air + strong Jetstream is already enough to cause sudden showers, thunderstorms and watersprouts at the coast (beach and seadyke included). Some places in Belgium already got >300mm rain since 1st of July. (here ‘only’ around 200mm)

    So has anyone an idea what warm sea water+ cold air + strong Jetstream + ash can do?

    • I was in the thunderstorm field for quite some time before going into full stratosphere/polar vortex research :P

      Basically the only difference would be that the ash could serve as aditional condensation nucleus. So I would say that theoretically you could get a bit more precip. out of it, relative to the avaliable moisture in the low levels, and the vertical moisture transport rates.

      As for that general combination, you have very steep lapse rates and nice destabilization. ;)

      • As long as you don’t stock them in your basement :mrgreen:,
        Now I suddenly want some “tomates crevettes” (we’ve heaps of tomatoes and courgettes from the garden)

  6. This volcano is very unpredictable That is to how seeing The earthquakes are moving all over the place. What does that suggest. I always wonder what the scientists are thinking as the plotting occurs. There seems to be a bunch of shifting going on underneath there.

    • Perhaps the whole region will fracture and we will get a new caldera forming event. :D Just think about it… :P

      • Highly doubt it, and we would need to see a lot more energy going into the system before that occurs. We would also need a central volcano that *could* have a caldera event for this to occur – assuming Bardarbunga did go caldera in the past 2000 years, there aren’t really any candidates here for that to happen.

        Honestly speaking, that wouldn’t be good to see. Sure it would be fun for us volcanophiles to watch at first, but it would probably have some annoying global implications to deal with.

      • Thought Bardarbunga already had a caldera. But in the unlikely event she decided to make a new one it would not be :D , more likely :cry:

        • I was not really being serious :P Tho you never know what chambers are hidden under the ice, or underground. :D

          • People are being evacuated from the north of Vatnajökull now, just in case so they might not be so happy, especially if this goes on for a while.

        • Two Icelandic volcanoes that I think could go caldera sometime soon in geological time (this means next millenia): Hekla and Oraefajokull.

          The others had recent caldera events.

  7. Based on the last two eruptions though is it true that Eyjafjallajökull shifted north/south east/West before doing it’s dance.

  8. Hi
    I am sitting on the balcony of our very nice hotel in La Palma. Tried to update the page but the connection keeps dropping ( Bleh)

  9. Evenin’ all! A few questions if I may … If we are seeing a pulse, does this mean we are now moving from pull to push (or is it the other way round)? Apologies if already discussed, it’s hard to keep up when work is busy :)

    If so, is the pulse larger than normal? Lastly, do you think it likely to see an increase in hydrothermal and other activity elsewhere as the pulse moves outward, laterally, from its source? I guess what I am really asking is, should I keep my eyes glued to the Geyser cam in about a weeks time in hope of seeing some steamy action? ;)

  10. I have to say you folks here that are interested in volcanoes and science, your posts are wonderful….no negative political complaining and no “one up on ya” non-sense…thank for such wonderful interesting postings

  11. ***
    I so love volcanoes…visited several ones in SH
    and in E but never on Iceland, i just have too
    Again i am so happy to read your blog, thy
    *

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