Askja – A brief update

Photograph by Herve 1993. In the foreground is Viti, in the background is Öskjuvatn.

After an initial spatter of information of the de-icing of Lake Öskjuvatn things are now coming to a full Easter stop.

After going through the records for earthquakes during the winter up until now one can easily see that there has not been any elevated level of earthquakes. Regarding harmonic tremor episodes, yes there have been a few short episodes that can be interpreted as such, but not a lot really. Also the GPS readings have been fairly consistent.

Image by IMO. The earthquake showing is in the Upptyppingar, and is considered to not be a part of the Askja swarm. It is an uncorrected 1.5M.

In reality there are not that many signs of an upcoming eruption. First of all Askja deflated from the onset of the Krafla eruption up until 2007 when an inflation started according to gravimetric readings. Together with GPS readings an inflation was spotted in the center of the old caldera, and a likely dyke intrusion trending towards (possible all the way into) Herdubreid volcano.

That inflation started a series of earthquake swarms, predominantly in the Herdubreid volcano. But, during the winter there seem to not have been a lot of activity, and this makes the de-icing of Öskjuvatn a bit surprising to say the least.

Most likely one of the quakes gave water a path down to a heated area closer to the magma or down to remnants from the 1875 eruption. This in turn most likely caused a new sub-surface geothermal source to heat up the lake. All we can say is that the amount of energy released into the water is substantial, and that it has been warming the lake rapidly during the last few weeks.

Askja erupting?

Image by IMO. The plot is showing fairly normal readings for this rather noisy SIL-station.

Currently there is not much pointing towards an eruption. There are no persistant earthquakes, there is no elevated tremor level, and there is no rapid movement in the GPS:s in the vicinity. The last thing should be taken with a large pinch of salt. The GPS:s of Iceland are really hard to interpret. More about the GPS:s and how to read them will be coming I hope in an upcoming post from someone who actually knows what she is talking about.

In conclusion

Anybody hoping for an Easter-eruption to cure their boredom should go and start painting eggs instead.  We will know when and if a final run-up phase starts, and then it is most likely weeks before the actual eruption starts. So, do not expect Askja to blow anytime soon. Otherwise all we can do is waiting, for Askja in general, and for the IMO report after their Tuesday visit.


114 thoughts on “Askja – A brief update

  1. Some days are just as made for a baaaaad joke.

    I feel like visiting the GeoLociche Institut für das Nutismatiche Untersuchung…

  2. Though we of course don’t know, what is going on at Askja, it is interesting, I think, that Icelandic police and civil protection (Almannavarnir), as a preventive measure, have forbidden til further notice all traffic on highland roads north of Vatnajökull . This might indicate that they take into account all kinds of further development – including an eruption, which also could take place just somewhere in the volcanic system of Askja which reaches north til the Arctic Sea (in Öxarfjördur). It’s also to be seen on the Vegagerdin Map (Icelandic Road Administration): The only road crossing the northern highlands which still is open, is the Ring Road (No.1, hringvegurinn).

    The geologist Björn Oddson from University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences even emphasizes that people should take these indications seriously: “Það er alls ekki að ástæðulausu sem gefin er út svona viðvörun, þarna er óvissuástand sem þýðir einfaldlega að við verðum að afla frekari upplýsinga til að geta sagt fyrir um stöðuna,“ segir Björn. (My translation: “It is not without a cause that such a warning is declared, conditions there are not yet defined which means that we have to get more information before we can tell the public what is going on.” says Björn)

    BTW: Some of the Askja fissures reach down under one of Iceland’s most powerful rivers, Jökulsá á Fjöllum.

  3. Magnitude 0 earthquakes? I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t make any sense to me.

    05.04.2012 15:41:15 63.607 -19.142 4.3 km -0.0 90.01 3.6 km NW of Hábunga
    05.04.2012 15:41:00 63.594 -19.154 13.3 km -0.0 87.79 3.1 km WNW of Hábunga

    • It is because the magnitude scale used in Iceland is not good at measuring the small ones. They are probably around 0,5M after being checked.
      Worst case of quake wonkiness I have seen sofar was -0,8M at -1km at the coast. Imagine a negative earthquake happening 1 kilometer up into the air… 🙂

      The chosen magnitude-scale is optimized for quakes between 1.7M and 4M. At least as far as I have gotten info.

    • Tyler, if you mean the negative sign, it’s because earthquakes are measured on a logharitmic scale. So a -m earthquake actually has the strenght of 10^(-m), which is not negative, just very small.

  4. As to Askja: Maybe that we at the moment don’t know a lot about the situation there, because the measurement results are not very dense – which is of course due to the isolation of the place.

    Following the interview of Morgunblaðið with the a.m. Björn Oddson, GPS measurements are just carried out at Askja once a year in August, but scientists will do it now during the expedition so that it will be possible to compare the data.

    They also intend to place thermometers in the water so as to check on water temperature. At the moment, no such instruments are in place.

    Fact is – following Björn – that there has been a heating up of the water which could be a precursor to an eruption – as was the case in the 19th century and 1961.

    • For being such a large volcano, would a potential for a very ashy explosive eruption, it is a bit overlooked really. I guess that they will emplace new GPS:es also in the area. If memory serves that is one of the places that Sigrún makes her summer-expeditions too.

      I do think that something is going on, and I do think that there is a possibility for more happening, but it should be some time before the fireworks start.
      If I remember correctly there was a summer web-cam there. I hope that they can turn it on somehow. It used to show tourists at Viti, I think it might have been a road-cam.

        • Well, I know there where tourist groups there on a cam during the summer. But who or what owns the camera, well that I do not have a clue on.

          • I seem to remember such a one, too. But I don’t find anything like that now on the net, so could well be that it’s connected only during main tourist season in the summer (bit difficult to maintain I could imagine as it is really a very remote place). 🙂

  5. My five cents:

    Öskjuvatn has heated up quite markedly. This means there has been a new magmatic intrusion under Askja. There are two possibilities as to how this energy has been transferred to the lake:

    a) The intrusion is through existing channels/magma chambers/sills/dikes and has heated the surrounding rocks which in turn has reinvigorated the hydrothermal systems resulting in the heating of lake Öskjuvatn.

    b) The intrusion is shallow and has come in direct contact with the groundwater table (hydrothermal system). In this case, the water has been contaminated with all sorts of detectible chemical compounds. The pH levels will be found to have dropped, (electric) conductivity risen and concentration of volcanic gases increased.

    If the IMO post-Easter expedition finds evidence of b) the prohibition on traffic will remain and an alert of a possible eruption in the near future issued. If it’s a) restrictions will most likely be lifted.

    • I agree on both a) and b) being quite possible, and that B will definitly leave the area sealed. But I think that an A that has heated the lake this much would also be a sign of an eruption being close, and then leaving the place closed off.

      Personaly I do think that unless there are gasses there it would not be that dangerous to be around the area as long as one monitor tremor and earthquakes well. Why? I think Askja needs a bit of run-up before an eruption would start. At least a couple of days.

      Grimsvötn was much faster, but then Grimsvötn is rather wide open to an eruption.

  6. (now back from the land of Carl)

    Mmmm.. this is getting interesting. Askja/Viti was on the plan for my late summer Iceland trip!

    For those who may be wondering, ‘TF-SIF’ is the Icelandic Coast Guard patrol aircraft (DHC-8-Q300) which is outfitted with a lot of sensors. At the start of March it returned to Iceland from Brindisi – not sure what it was doing there.

  7. so is the July trip still on? – my old brain keeps telling me that there still are plans for a trip to Katla or/and Hekla’s webcams – for a barbecue?
    If Askja comes to life – will the barbecue move to a different location? – or?

    • Yepp it is, July 14th we are going to do the BBQ. I do not have a clue how many will be there, but I will be there with my then wife. Also Alan has gotten Icelandic Urges. We are now contemplating exactly where to do it. We are looking for a nice spot infront of a webcam.
      Perhaps we could negotiate something on the field infront of the mila cam.

  8. Time to go and read a bit.
    Tomorrow there will be the Sheepy Dalek – Name that Lava again.

  9. OT (NON quake related, so don’t even go there.)

    :Issued: 2012 Apr 06 0303 UTC
    :Product: documentation at
    # HALO CME ALERTS from the SIDC (RWC-Belgium), generated by CACTUS #
    A halo or partial-halo CME was detected with the following characteristics:

    t0 | dt0| pa | da | v | dv | minv| maxv|
    009|2012/04/05 21:36| 03 | 301| 152| 0613| 0165| 0260| 1007

    Details can be found here:

    • Meanwhile… one CME has turned up missing.

      From Spaceweather:

      AURORA WATCH: A CME expected to reach Earth on April 4th is overdue. The cloud might have missed or maybe it’s running late. Mindful of a possible impact, NOAA forecasters estimate a 15% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on April 5th.

        • To the Daily Fail and other media……… This is a joke re the term “Overdue” used frequently in the media as an excuse for writing a scary story when nothing much else is happening apart from murders, wars and human suffering.

          • To the media…..Please do not contact me or this Blog re the reference to aliens. As a biologist I am open minded about the existence of life on other planets. . Ahhhh! but what is “Life”?

            Today the beginning of Easter/ Spring celebrations. The end of the hard times/ Lent .Good Friday. A day to contemplate.
            May you all be blessed with Good New Beginnings no matter your politics or religions

        • Well, this one is known to exist… they saw it launch. It probably stopped off for coffee and doughnuts along the way, possibly caught up in reading an interesting article in the paper.

          • Nothing could disperse a CME. A Black Hole could eat it, but then we would have been dead.
            The power involved is to large.
            What I suspect is that they got the trajectory wrong (angle, speed or both), another explanation would be that they got the power wrong and it passed on time but was an order of magnitude lower. Personally I believe in nummero uno.

          • On the other hand, NOAA says it should be here today and that it’s weak:
            “Geophysical Activity Forecast: The geomagnetic field is expected to be quiet to unsettled on day one (6 April) due to the weak CME that was associated with the filament eruption that occurred on 02 April. The field is expected to return to quiet levels on day two (7 April), then be at quiet to unsettled levels due to a coronal hole high speed stream becoming geoeffective on day three (8 April).”
            From here:

  10. Most likely misinterpretation or flawed data; either they got the direction/size wrong or flawed data gave the same erroneous result.

  11. And here is exactly why you should never be around poisonous gases (From the Darwin Awards).

    “NOMINEE No. 5: [Bloomberg News Service] A terrible diet and room with no ventilation are being blamed for the death of a man who was killed by his own gas. There was no mark on his body but an autopsy showed large amounts of methane gas in his system. His diet had consisted primarily of beans and cabbage (and a couple of other things). It was just the right combination of foods. It appears that the man died in his sleep from breathing the poisonous cloud that was hanging over his bed. Had he been outside or had his windows been opened, it wouldn’t have been fatal. But the man was shut up in his near-airtight bedroom. According to the article, “He was a big man with a huge capacity for creating “this deadly gas.” Three of the rescuers got sick and one was hospitalized.”

    It is Friday, Eastern, and I am hungry…

      • Ladies, let this be a lesson into checking his eating habbits before marriage, and in case needed, install a big ventilation system 🙂

    • Master Carl. I think i need another lesson how to treat comments which went to the vaults. The comments seem OK, both were on older posts and one name sounds hm not so ok.

        • It is not there anymore dont know where it went, i am checking the old posts one wassupposed to go onto the one on Bezymianny and the other one hm ..

          • Hm, maybe some other dragon cleaned them out before we checked?
            Anyway, usually, from watching this place since the beginning, spam comments are normally on older posts and they sometimes sound plausible (e.g. I found your blog from somewhere else or on google, it sounds really interesting, I will keep following it. Your writing is good, but you could improve it this way, etc. – I’ve seen variations of these phrases all over), and sometimes have a plausible username, but almost always they have a strange url/email address. Hope this helps.

        • So my lesson is… check the email adress an if it is on an old blog post this is supsicious Because the comments sounded exactly like what you just wrote. And yes this dragon (me) has young ones which sometimes need them, so the delayed reply.

    • I always sleep with open windows no matter how cold, it does get to -12 C or so down here, someone else reckons I am nuts, but this really proves a point, what about the saying nobody dies in … air, but people freeze to dead, puts that one to rest.
      No rest for me, laid pavers today, 45cm x 45cm x 10cm, there where heavy and changed dog runs, almost finished, housing tomorrow, to do the roofing on them, I want to get things done before the cold sets in.
      A interesting article and evidence of many El Hierro eruptions during the last centuries, no kidding with all those cones around the place, another bathymetry is being done today, this ship takes a lot wider area according to

  12. Hello ev’bdy!

    Just want to wish you all a joyful Easter!
    And thank’s to Carl and gang (no one forgotten) who’s contributing knowledge & fun to this fantastic site…


    • Thanks for the heads-up! The feature marked “1” in the Feb 26 image and “ash?” in the March 23 image by Erik seems to be a new feature. (It looks as if Erik may have misidentified(?) the new feature for Viti as you can clearly see the ice-covered Viti to the right of the “ash?” feature in the March 23 image). Just look at this picture (use “crtl” “+” to magnify as much as possible) and compare it to all previous images. It looks as if Viti has had a “mini-Viti” added to it.

      • You are right, but I think that’s what Erik meant, no? The way I read is that the “mini-Viti” (new on 23 March) picture looks like ash/dust/something sprinkled on the ice and is next to the real Viti (on both 26 Feb and 23 March).

        • I’m not certain, but in the caption to the Feb 26th image he says “Viti is marked by “1”” and the arrow points to the new feature and not the less obvious but substantially larger, circular feature I identify as Viti, but hey! I could be the one making the mistake!

        • I have not yet been to Askja, but when we look at pictures like the newest one at Eric’s and here at Wikimedia and as I know conditions in volcanic craters in general and in Iceland esp., I could imagine circular wind gusts forming in the crater and transporting the very loose eroded material outside of it and onto the snow cover on the colder outside, as the inside of Víti seems to be warmer and free of snow. (effects like that are called “moldrok” in Icelandic) Could be an alternative explanation of the “ash”. 🙂

    • Highly speculative really.
      There was no ash on the two images I used in the first post.
      I would go for a light dusting blown out by the harsh wind that was during that period from the ice free Viti lake.
      I can not see any new features there.
      Also, a lake-ice never melts faster than snow on the ground in warm wind.

  13. This may be completely ‘off the wall’ and total nonsense, but some of you may remember that as the Grimsfjall eruption came to an end last year, Askja SIL (amongst others) showed a marked upshift in tremor that took weeks to subside, and continued long after the grimsfjall eruption stopped. It picqued my curiosity at the time because the SILs were far apart, and there is no connection between the volcanoes …

    Unfortunately there are gaps in the Grmisfjall SIL readings over the last couple of weeks at critical times, but it has had some tremor ‘peaks’ in line with those seen at askja which makes we wonder if these two volcanoes share a mantle level feeding mechanism that is part of the mechanism for adding magma to the seperate volcanoes (cant think of a better way to put this) and is pushing upwards or applying pressure at the moment at both locations? Or something like this? They are not so very far apart…

      • One thing common with Grimsfjall and Askja is their height abowe sea level, weather (storm) can be seen at both, but less at same time on other SIL´s. However Askja has remained “high” in “noise” all winter (I say this from memory) but Grimsfjall has been rather low. I have thought Askja has remained high in noise this winter due it has been “hotter” due Hydro-thermal activity. 50 years since last eruption seems “nomal” period, so anything can happen I guess.

    • Bardarbunga and Askja share the same type of magma, but that sharing happens under the crust at the point where the mantleplume comes up. There is not sharing between Askja and Grimsvötn, except that they are close to where the mantleplume hits the bottom of the Icelandic crust. But, both are sitting on top of the same riftline.

  14. For those interested, this is the read of DYN east/west motion component.
    Nothing much showing there that is out of the ordinary. The 2M Kistufell quake is quite visible, but no sign of harmonic tremoring. This makes pretty much the tremor seen at ASK to be wind.

  15. I will put in the Sheepy Lava at my 6 o’clock.
    Reason for this is that it is a good time for me. And it is also when statistically the amount of visitors on a friday is highest. The amount goes up to a high level around that time, and stays high untill around 11 in the night my time. So I do not find any good reason to put it in later, since that would actually cut down on the time where most people are here looking for the competition. I know this makes it a bit unfair for those in the westernmost parts of Europe, but however I do it, it will be unfair for some people.
    Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa (to those that get a lower probabillity of winning due to time differences)!

  16. I’ll put this in here, because it is material about Askja volcano.

    The sometimes mentioned Icelandic volcanologist Haraldur Sigurdsson has been writing some posts about this volcano, too. And in them are some plots which could be interesting:
    – about the earthquake activity (I don’t know if GeoLurking has been posting something about it in the comments here):
    Haraldur Sigurdsson is btw also emphasizing that the earthquake activity at Askja on the whole has been decreasing.

    Another plot integrated in his posts shows gravity changes up to the year 2010 when Hazel Rymer (the author of the plot) predicted an Askja eruption in the not too far away future.

    • One of Haraldur Sigurdsson’s posts is talking about the water temperature at Askja.

      Data about it Haraldur refers to, are esp. from 1975 and 1980. In an article by the geochemist Jón Ólafsson from 1980, the latter describes results of measurements as shown on the picture (black points being measurement places, year numbers indicating eruptions). Warm springs at the water botn and at the lake side showed temperatures up to 10°C, and the average water temperature was 7°C, which means a lot at around 1000 m height in Iceland, even in the summer time (my assumption that the measurements were carried out then). The highest temperatures measured in some hot springs at the lake side were up to 84°C. Haraldur concludes that the lake has always been rather hot, but looks forward to see newest measurement results. As the lake is so isolated, there is not a lot of data to refer to.

      To me this seems to be a contradiction to photos like this one which was taken July 2011 (following the title): or this from June 2009:

      • July 2010, I was there at Askja, and the lake was with no ice at all. But plenty of snow in many parts of the caldera ground. I also noticed warm water just coming from the ground at the edges of the lake. This was 2 years ago.

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