It has been a long time since I wrote about Hekla. But, I guess nobody is surprised at what I am about to write.
Everyone with a genuine interest in volcanoes have their favorite volcano. As many in here know Hekla is my favorite volcano to bang my head against. Few volcanoes are as intricate as Hekla, and few have such a short run up before an eruption as Hekla. Normal run up time to an eruption is between 30 – 80 minutes from the first sign.
This time around has been different. But let us first recapitulate what has happened since the last eruption. For those who are curious about how Hekla works I would like to recommend my own post about her innards:
In 2004 Hekla had received as much new magma as was discharged during the 2000 eruption and sometime during late 2008 to early 2009 that figure had doubled. After that the inflation stagnated and no real uplift was measured at the GPS-stations with the exception of what was most likely magma moving between the different magma chambers.
During the summer of 2011 earthquakes was registered and a public safety alert was issued stating that Hekla was close to erupting. From then on Hekla has had earthquakes ranging from miniscule to 2M+ without erupting. For those who are not familiar with Hekla one should notice that she normally is aseismic, or in other words, that she does not have a lot of earthquakes.
From 2010 and onwards Hekla started to show a new feature that I dubbed “transients”. The transients are sudden rapid drops in the strain measured at the borehole strainmeters. These transients have only been seen before as Hekla erupted. They had before 2010 never been seen without an eruption occurring. A transient is in short happening as the mountain strains to open up.
On the 13th of March and onwards Hekla had a swarm of earthquakes and once again transients were noticed on the strain-meters. There was also harmonic tremor measured indicating rapid movement of magma. This caused IMO to issue a public safety warning, and the London VAAC issued a flight code warning Orange. This followed the exact pattern of how all the previously instrumentally monitored eruptions had started so far.
As we all know nothing happened in the end. We can now safely say that we know even less than we did before about how Hekla acts before an eruption. Because now we have to figure out why Hekla did not erupt when she should have. I guess someone will have a research career out of it in the end.
After this Hekla entered into a new phase never seen before, this time a phase of very rapid and unbroken inflation started. What happened is most likely that the earthquake swarm removed blockages inside the deep feeder tubes of Hekla enabling fresh magma to flow into the volcanic system.
The rate of inflation varies a lot depending on where the GPS station is placed. The big exception is Mjóaskard situated to the west of Hekla. It has only suffered an uplift of 5mm in the last 5 weeks. For the other stations the rate of inflation is between 15mm in Hestáalda and 32mm at ISAK. Average uplift is 16mm, and 21mm if MJSK is not counted. This type of rapid inflation has so far never been measured at Hekla.
During the entire inflation phase there have been scattered earthquakes and micro-quakes.
If the current rapid inflation continues there is a very low chance of Hekla not erupting. Yes, we do not know what is happening with Hekla now since we have never seen this type of behavior. But Hekla is constructed in such a way that she can’t take a huge increase in pressure without erupting.
If the inflation continues at the current rate Hekla will erupt. When? Well I am not going to make any bets, but any time from 1 hour from when you read this to 4 weeks. Remember that 4 weeks into the future the combined uplift in 2 months will have exceeded 50mm at many GPS stations. As seen on the image above the largest uplift is happening on the northern slopes. This is a known site for one of Heklas primary magma chambers. The area to the northeast are not showing correctly, there is uplift there too, but due to lack of a GPS station there the model get scewed.
I personally would not at any cost get closer to Hekla then 10 km from now on. And then I would stay in the car on the road. If you are closer the chance of you surviving is not good and 5 km the chance of you surviving the initial blast is pretty much nill.
What will the eruption be like? Here I will be guessing since Hekla has changed her behavior compared to the last eruptions. I would say that Hekla has remobilized old evolved magma during all that moving of magma, and this latest inflation phase seems to fill up a lot of old magma chambers. This causes me to fear a rather explosive start of the eruption. I would also say that there is quite a high likelihood of there being more lava erupted then was seen during the last 3 eruptions. I will hedge my bet by saying that I would expect it to be anything between a VEI2 and a VEI4 on the volcanic explosivity index, and that Hekla will effuse between 0.1 to 2 cubic kilometers of lava. Based on the GPS plot above my best judgement is that the eruption will start at the top of Hekla proper and then open up the fissure both to the south, but mainly to the north. Most probably the Hekla fissure will open over all of Hekla proper with a fissure extending to the Northeast.
For those who wish to follow the eruption, here is the Hekluvöktun page: