Earthquake prediction at the South Icelandic Fracture Zone

Fissure from the the first of the 2000 Icelandic earthquakes. Photograph by Ross Beyer.

Fissure from the the first of the 2000 Icelandic earthquakes. Photograph by Ross Beyer.

Volumetric strainmeters are used around the Globe to try to predict earthquakes. One of the main reasons for the proliferation of them is to be found in Iceland. Before we go to the latest events in the Southern Icelandic Fracture Zone (SIFZ) we should start with the classic example from prior to the M6.6 earthquake on the 17th of June in 2000.

The 2000 Big Bump at Saurbaer strainmeter. Image by Ragnar Stefánsson.

The 2000 Big Bump at Saurbaer strainmeter. Image by Ragnar Stefánsson.

The spike above is known in its highly scientific term as the “Big Bump”, it was recorded as starting on the 28th of May and ended on the 1st of June. It is believed to have been caused by a pocket of fluids being squashed upwards by the mounting strain at the fault line. Notice that the big bump lowered the crustal strain as it ended, something that probably helped release the earthquake 16 days later.

Icelanders are Icelanders so they are pretty cool with their natural disasters.  An active transform fault that goes right through the town of Hveragerdi, South Iceland. In one place it lies under the town's shopping centre. Image from

Icelanders are Icelanders so they are pretty cool with their natural disasters.
An active transform fault that goes right through the town of Hveragerdi, South Iceland. In one place it lies under the town’s shopping centre. Image from

The big bump was recorded by the Saurbaer strainmeter that to my knowledge today is defunct, or not publicly available. This means that we sadly can’t compare the readings for the latest earthquakes with that same station.

Another thing is that at the onset of the earthquakes there was a signal recorded on all strainmeters around Hekla. The signal was a negative strain signal 2 seconds prior to the first break of the earthquake and can be seen as the first part of the P-wave.

There are though at least 3 problems with these readings. The first problem is that even if you see something like the big bump on a strainmeter it does not imply really that an earthquake must occur, nor does it in any way state when it will occur.

Second problem is that the reason for the big bump was a fluid pocket being relocated upwards. So it only works if there is such a pocket inside the fault line.

The third problem is with the 2-second warning, for most points and purposes that is way too late to make a difference.

May 8th 2014 Earthquake

I will here just relate the facts, and leave the theorizing to the relevant geologists, I do though find it intriguing enough to write about it.

As you can see in the plot below a medium fast increase in strain started about half an hour before the initial break of the M4.2 earthquake at the Búrfell Strainmeter, as the initial break occurred the strain rapidly fell at such a speed that I for a few minutes thought that Hekla would erupt since the Hekla strainmeter reacted by a strain increase.

Image by the Icelandic Met Office.

Image by the Icelandic Met Office.


Image by the Icelandic Met Office.

Image by the Icelandic Met Office.

No big bump was recorded on any strainmeter, but there is an intriguing “small bump” starting at ten in the morning on the 8th that might be related. It could though equally well be related to activity at Herdubreid or out at Geirfugladrangur.

But, to the best of my knowledge no strain increase was recorded in the same way during the 2000 earthquakes in Iceland, so I wrote it off as a one off fluke.

At ten o’clock the next morning yet another medium rapid strain increase started and this time it ended with a M3.6 earthquake at Geirfugladrangur. The strain fall part did though not occur this time around; instead the strainmeter resumed the previous trajectory that was interrupted by the strain increase. This surprised me quite a lot since I would have bet that such an earthquake was both to small and too far away to greatly influence the Búrfell strainmeter, and to the best of my knowledge no such influence had been recorded before. I was therefore watching for another one.

After effects of the earthquake.

After effects of the earthquake.

I did not have to wait for long; at twelve o’clock another one occurred. This time I had to check for a corresponding earthquake. I found it a whopping 260 kilometers due west of Geirfugl, and even though it was a M3.9 to M4.4 earthquake it should not have been registered as well as it was.

Now I was sitting waiting for it to happen again, but since M3 or larger earthquakes are fairly far apart I did expect to have to wait for quite some time. As it happened I did not have to wait for long, at seven in the evening the same day yet another M3.4 earthquake happened at Geirfugladrangur. This time nothing showed on the strainmeter. Nor did it show during a M3.2 earthquake north of Eiriksjökull on the 10th or during the M3.6 Eldey earthquake the day after that.

This left me fairly stumped and out of ideas on what was going on and with a lot of questions that I have no good answer for. Why did 3 earthquakes in a row come with a strain increase ending with initial break? How could such a far away earthquake affect strain at such a large distance? What had changed at Búrfell since 2000 to give a readable signal from the 3 earthquakes? And why did the last 3 of the earthquakes not show up on the strainmeter?

Final thoughts

In the end this all proves how hard it is to find a way to predict earthquakes. You think you are on to something, but the same pre-signal rarely if ever comes twice. And in the end you are left with more questions than you started with.

In the end I think we will be able to predict many earthquakes and I even think I know a way to get to some, or even most of them. Question in the end is probably cost. The solution I think is the most viable is both large in scale and does not come cheap. I am sorry that I can’t write what I think would be a way forward, I will happily write what it is after I have filed the patent application.



Ragnar Stefánsson: Advances in Earthquake Prediction: Research and Risk Mitigation


112 thoughts on “Earthquake prediction at the South Icelandic Fracture Zone

    • Answer.
      It was kind of my point up above. But sooner or later we will be able to do it partially. Of that I am convinced. Fully? Not likely.

      • Careful, you are gonna draw out the moon freaks.

        Last thread, you mentioned that you had a barometric reading for a storm that you were in.

        Here is an early graphic that I made up a few years ago. You can eyeball your baro reading and get an idea of roughly what sort of wind it would support.

        Like I said, it’s an early bit-o-number juggling. As for the formulas, they are poly fits so take them with a grain of salt. They don’t really mean much. I had planned on reworking them with Formulize™ but that rat-bastard changed his licensing scheme and is trying to milk it for all it’s worth. IMO it’s a nice program, but he can shove it up his monetizing ass. You don’t reneg on a software agreement and expect me to beat a path to your door. I am now waiting eagerly to see a group take issue with it and crack your program. Not that I’ll use it, but they deserve it for jerking their users around. That’s the sort of behavior that motivates the crack groups. My actions are usually more direct. Crystal Office pulled that shit on me and it has cost them poor recommendations ever since. It’s called “bad press.” I may just be one voice in the crowd, but voices matter. It tends to form public opinion.

        • I am aware that I might draw at the mooners, and I am suspecting that I might get some flack for this one…

          My reading was at 914, the official reading is 921 but to the best of my knowledge nobody else was measuring inside the darn thing except me. I do though not have a windspeed measurment since my wind gauge left me in the first 150kp/h gust.
          I did have a sail up, a storm-monkey 1.5sqm of the toughest nylon ever produced. It was measurably bigger after the ordeal. I lost a lot of things from deck and masts, and the luck part I am talking about is to not get demasted or doing a severe broach. If I had done that I do not think I would have been alive. I think I survived out of being so insane that I tied myself into the cockpit and actually steered through it all. That in the end gave me the surfing experience…

            • Floyds official reading is the third lowest Cat-4 reading ever, and it is rated as a high cat-4, but I think it was for a while a cat-5. Ivan for instance was at 910 at worst.

              There is a comment in the equipment den…

          • Two Vodka Volcanoes and two beers… I have a slight problem focusing right now. The steaks turned out great, and I managed to get through the evening with out offending the grandkid’s girlfriend… or making a pass at her, or upsetting the wife with ancient sailor tales.

            Currently, I am trying to recover a lost partition on about a terabyte and a half of data. Yeah, that data. Somewhere in there are all of my ruminations on atmospherics with relation to volcanoes and uplift on some out of the way volcanic islands. The sort that ranting political types get pissed off about when you innocently show the world that they are full of shit.

      • I guess that we will never get better at predicting earthquakes with an accuracy of little more than 50 per cent … and that is not really a good basis when it comes to deciding about the evacuation of millions of people. Besides, once governments, stakeholders and construction business are lulled into the belief that earthquake prediction is possible, how much money will they still be willing to spend into earthquake-resistant construction? In countries like Italy this would certainly be taken as a chance to save money – even if in the case of a devastating earthquake, this would mean that enormous economic losses would be accepted, plus the social, cultural and psychological consequences of these losses for countless people. I believe that the one single useful solution of the earthquake problem is safe construction – we have the knowledge, we have the technology, and this has proved useful in many cases already (just think about a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Italy that kills more than 300 people, and a magnitude 8.2 in Chile that kills six). If we can also warn of the possibility of a major earthquake in an area where buildings are safe, this could convince people to stay at home and stay away from huge buildings with glass façades and the likes. But earthquake prediction is NOT the solution to the problem. It’s like the magic little pill that maybe makes the pain go away. But the cause of the pain will not be cured.

        • Hello Boris!
          Thank you for your wonderful reply. It made me aware that I had been unclear. I have written prediction when I should have written warning or warning signs.
          I think that with time we will be able to in many cases give warning for an impending earthquake within minutes or perhaps even an hours advance. This is perhaps me being “positivistic” beyond belief, but without hoping we do not try and we get no advancement of science and equipment.

          I fully agree that the best protection is stringent building codes being set into place, and that those codes are followed and enforced. And I also agree that building codes is the only solution to save a lot of lives. I guess I just want to believe that there is not a single problem that humanity can’t solve if we hammer away at it for long enough, I guess I have a too positive view on life in the end 🙂

  1. UK viewers – there’s a programme about Karakatoa on BBC 4 right now – no doubt available on iPlayer if you miss it.

    • It’s a repeat but well worth watching again. It raises a lot of questions; for example:

      – they suggest that the tsunamis from the Krakatoa eruption were caused by PCFs rather than rock fall (debris avalanche from slope failure). Why not both being causes? Slope failure may have occurred in stages?
      – off shore rock samples were taken only from the North and West of Krakatoa, not from the East and South due to logistics. It would be interesting to see what lies offshore to the East and South. Does this support the theory that future slope failure would be to the SW.

      • & what would have happened when magma and seawater came into contact (which would have been highly likely with edifice collapse)?

        • Steam driven explosion causing instant formation of a caldera. That is what most likely produced the large tsunami.

          • Something pretty big caused the explosion that was heard 3,000 miles away.

            In the programme they indicate that a caldera was there before the eruption of Krakatoa. They focused more on slope failure and PCFs.

            • Uhm, well there was no caldera there in the days leading up to the eruption. Krakataus shape was painted just a few days before onset of eruption.

            • Agree that Krakatoa itself was a stratovolcano before the eruption.

              It’s past my bedtime so have not ambled over to check properly but isn’t there a group of islands that make up the edges of a caldera?

            • Don’t forget there were also numerous tsunamis, not just one. That said, I too have always wondered about the pf theory of tsunami-genesis (there, I just bundled some clever words together, see that? ;-)). If pfs alone created the tsunamis, then Tambora, which generated pfs that went up to 100 km over the sea, should have also generated huge tsunamis but I have never heard of any tsunamis here that were anything like the scale of Krakatoa.

              OK, the geography around Krakatoa is conducive to channelling tsunamis towards inhabited places (it’s kind of in the middle of a semi-contained bay). And the witness accounts talk of an extremely agitated sea for the entire course of the eruption with numerous smaller tsunamis but I also suspect it was edifice collapse and associated blast (think Mt St. Helens with the sea level going up to within 400 m of the summit) that created the biggest tsunami and was the source of the loudest explosions.

              I guess it’s also a question of how pf’s interact with water. There’s been some interesting experimentation done on this. All a question of density I guess. A block and ash flow will separate when it hits water. Firstly the heat of the flow will create a powerful convective cushion of steam that will entrain all the small stuff and send it out over the surface of the sea (see Tambora) but I imagine heavier blocks would enter the sea and sink. Trouble is you have to be close to the source of the flow to still have such large blocks involved. At Krakatoa this is not an issue as the sea ended up engulfing the vent. But at other locations where the heavier blocks have already settled in the flow I can’t see it generating a tsunami.

              It’s all a question of timing. A wave like a tsunami is a reaction to a point force, like a sudden landslide or block entering the sea. But when you have a few cubic kilometers of hot ash flowing over a water body before slowly settling, you don’t have a point force but a gradual blanketing that water is fluid enough to accommodate without a huge tsunami being generated. Remember that video of a pf entering the sea at Plymouth? Admittedly it was tiny by that stage and probably already fairly cold, but I didn’t see any reaction in the water at all.

              Here this video (actually a collage of stuff, not all of which appears to be Montserrat, but whatever). Go to 1:30 and you can see a pf spreading out over the sea.


              /rambling thoughts

            • Well, Krakatoa was a stratovolcano, inside a caldera from a previous stratovolcano, that itself was built in a caldera…. In short, this thing went through many building/caldera cycles in the past. In fact, the Javanese Book of Kings says that Java and Sumatra were once one island, and a caldera collapse of Krakatoa separated them. There appears to be a caldera there that is big enough that it could be true!

    • Brought out of hiding without permission.

      2 oz. Vodka
      2 oz. Grapefruit juice
      2 oz. Pineapple juice
      1 tsp. Grenadine

      At 1 oz. of Vodka, my wife complained that she could not taste the Vodka. I handed her the bottle so that she could correct it. She is sleeping now and I am soon to follow. After two of these I switched to beer so that I could slow my consumption. I may pay for it though because I have violated the drinker’s maxim. “Don’t switch drinks mid evening.” Time to pre-hydrate and go to bed.

      BTW, I got quite animated while discussing Yellowstone with the grandkid’s girlfriend. Having lived in Japan, she was taken aback by the sheer number of ancient calderas on Hokkaido.

  2. And for those who like to track swarms in Iceland.
    There is a fairly interesting swarm that started 10km north of Bárdarbunga on the road to Kistufell. And at the same time a low intensity series of earthquakes has started at Hábunga volcano on the Lakí line. The last one is really interesting for so many different reasons, among them the depth.
    Definitely something to keep track of for those who are interested, remember that these are volcanoes that have been amply active in the last 1000 years.

    • Vatnajokull is definitely going crazy right now. What I find interesting how the eq’s are halfway in between Bardarbunga and Kistufell

      • Remember that both of those are sharing the same fissure swarm and that the hotspot is situated under Kistufell.

    • It is interesting and fun to monitor such activity, but once you realize that nothing might happen in your lifetime (except Grimsvotn lol), it kinda loses the spark. 🙂

      • This is definitely volcanoes that could erupt, and most likely will do so at least once in your lifetime. Bárdarbunga has had a very very long repose time for being such an active volcano, so when it goes it could become a tad memorable.
        This is a general area that could do stuff, and do it fast. Here there is no need for repeated swarms over time.

        • That is definetly a legit point, but everytime there is something more “exciting” going on, there is always someone (usually IMO if no one else :D) that says its just business as usual. 🙂 So I automatically thought for this one too that its just normal stuff, like “move along, nothing to see here…”. 🙂

          • Oh…
            According to IMO this is also normal… “Hell opening up and brimstone hurling through the air, icecream sold at convenient locations” It is after all Iceland 😉

          • Thanks DU, this is my point exactly, and it is the reason why I’m not interested in these Iceland speculations here. IMO publishes so many data that every burp can be detected and discussed. The discussion whether it was a from an upset stomach or from digestive disorder, with some suggesting a full blown gastro-enteritis being under way is just futile… There is always something happening in Iceland, which is boring to a non scientist, but I am fire and flame as soon as SOMETHING happens. THEN I want to know how it happened and where it came from.

            More than once I have seen on other blogs a reference to VC saying things like Hekla Will Blow in a Week Or Two, so, trusting visitors are often mislead by such many-comments-long speculations.

            Caveat: I am not pointing my forefinger to any particular commenter! 😉

            • Well, I know I am writing quite a lot about Iceland. There are reasons for that. First of all the particular volcanism there is highly interesting. Second of all, often when I write nowadays I am hard pressed for time and quite simply do not have the time to indepth research “Mount Obscure”.

              The problem is also compounded by the fact that we have no long list any longer of articles to put in. So, my suggestion is to gently prod the rest of the wonderful writers in here to write more so we get more diversity.

              But, I do not think we will ever stop discussing Iceland a lot because Iceland interests quite a lot of readers in here.
              I would also like to say that I did not interpret Down Under in the same way as you did.

            • Wasn’t there two more articles waiting from the most ill-begotten real-estate series?

              Either way, I enjoy following Iceland and never miss the posts about it. Iceland is interesting, unique, and is an area that can have real-world implications with some of it’s eruptions. There is also more data and information for the purpose of studying Icelandic geology, so that alone makes it something to enjoy.

              Personally, i would love to research and write about volcanoes such as those in the African rift, but there is such little information outside the few systems that are constantly active like Erta Ale, that it’s difficult to present anything interesting to readers.

            • I would also like to point out that active periods in Iceland more than double the readership in here. So, Iceland is popular. Note, this is when Icelands “burps”, not when Iceland erupts. I am though in no way writing so much about Iceland due to it being popular, I do it squarily out of it being easy for me when I am pressed for time.
              But I do agree that variation is good, but currently variation is depending on people writing about different volcanoes.

            • Yes there are two more articles in that series… but it requires me to study so that Boris doesn’t punch my nose. And study time is low now… to say the least.
              For those who have missed it I have a new job and am working 60 hour weeks. It kind of limits me to write 1 post per week. And if we do not start to get new material we will soon be down to fewer articles per week. 😦

            • I agree with Carl. I am interested in antarctic volcanoes. Their obscurity means getting information about them is not easy.Look at Siple. Never been climbed, and has only been sketched.A young, massive shield volcano which nobody knows about. Why?
              There is barely a threat from antarctic volcanism.Because of that nobody studies it.

            • MDATC is touching on something important here.
              I am not bragging if I say that I have read about 99 percent of everything ever published about Icelandic volcanoes. It makes it easy for me to write about them. I just need to quickly check a few papers so I get the numbers straight. If I write about other common volcanoes I can get away with an hour of fact checking, or maybe two.
              The more unusual ones can take a lot of time. For the Tondano article (my personal favourite article together with the Laki series) I had to first search information for one week, then I read for two days. And Tondano is far from the least known about volcano on the planet.
              To write about something like the Volcano that MDATC referenced to I would need to mount an expedition first.
              I do like to read and search for data, but when time is at a premium I am happy that Iceland exist, I can always find something interesting to write about there. I also wish to point out that as I founded this place I had a plan to write about every Icelandic volcano and then move on across the globe. I still have half of all the Icelandic volcanoes to write about, and I bet that those I have allready written about will merit an article or two more. In reallity I have written less then 25 percent of my articles about Icelandic volcanoes.

              In the end though Iceland justifies the attention it receives and that for some very simple reasons.
              1. Iceland has had the two largest eruptions in this millenium.
              2. Icelandic volcanism has a tendency to affect quite a lot of people.
              3. Sooner or later a big Icelandic eruption will occur. Remember that what you have seen there during your lifetime is about 100 times smaller than a large Icelandic eruption. For most points and purposes Iceland has a 50-50 chance of being the next world affecting eruption site.
              4. Iceland is way cool (best reason of them all)

            • Researching “Mount Obscure” or even “Mount Not Quite As Obscure” does take a lot of time, especially if you are not a real geologist or volcanologist; but I am working on the research (between other commitments) 😉

              I like reading about Iceland. Just wish I could visit it sometime.

              /Friendly passerby Dragon

            • Iceland is cool. Can’t have enough posts on Iceland. The whole place is a walking volcano laboratory.

            • Hey, I am all with you, I like reading articles about Iceland too, I have been there and I loved it. 🙂 What I meant to be not so good was all the **Speculations**, leading other people to believe that something is about to erupt in the next days.

            • I think most would fall asleep if we did not speculate here in the comment field…
              I do though hope that people can understand the difference between idle speculation in the comments and the articles. The articles is about facts (at least those facts we can get at).

          • Quite correct Tyler, and that is a 104 year long repose time, very long for Bárdarbunga. It is though of course a blink of the eye in comparisons to some other volcanoes.

  3. *I’m absolutely no geologist or something and I use information I got by reading this blog and other stuff in my spare time. So this can be complete bullshit, if I interpret something wrong.

    Is it possible that Hekla (or its fissure) works a bit like a funnel? And so amplifying certain waves that enter the funnel from a certain direction?

    I got this idea a while ago when I had more time then now when I noticed how well the earth tides show on the burfell strainmeter. This made me compare it with the tides of the Scheldt river here in Belgium/The Netherlands. At the mouth of the (wester)Scheldt the difference between high and low tide is 4m. Now the Scheldt estuary works like a funnel, greatly amplifying the tidal surge. At Antwerp, 80 km upstream, the average difference is 5m between low and high tide. In Rupelmonde, 120 km upstream from the mouth/north sea, the tidal difference is averaging 6m. This is even higher at spring tide. After Rupelmonde the tide starts to loose its force. But even in Ghent, 200 km upstream, there is still some effect from the tide.

    So when I saw the earth tides on the burfell strain meter, I tought that the Hekla fissure amplifies the earth tides like the Scheldt river amplifies the sea tides. If this is correct, it probably also amplifies waves that are travelling in the right directions, so that if they enter the “mouth” of Hekla, they get amplified, while other waves (different direction/wavelenghth/…) don’t.

    (actually the tidal surge stops in Ghent only because of sluices. Normally, the Scheldt and its tributaries stays tidal until the ground rise higher than 10-15m from the low tide sea-level. This makes the whole Flanders coastal plane technically one of the biggest sweet water tidal marches of Europe (completely dyked of course). You should be aware of this if you ever want to row/travel by boat on the Scheldt. Because the tidal surge travels at a speed up to 3 m/s upstream at high tide and 3 m/s downstream at low tide. Don’t ever swim in the Scheldt as this creates very dangerous currents as the river flows in another direction every six hours. )

      • I’ve never heard of tidal bores in the Scheldt. And it is a very important river with the port of Antwerp the biggest port of Europe after Rotterdam. (And once the fifth biggest port of the world).
        You can have very damaging and deadly storm surges who easily penetrate 100km upstreams.

        If you want an (mathemathical) introduction on the scheldt and it tides this is very good:

        • Although those deadly stormsurges were in the past. Today there are a lot of flood defences and sluices and dykes which protect us from flooding

        • thanks for the link ! Yes the Antwerp harbour is impressive. The is also a harbour in Ghent. I think there are some sea defences as for the delta project in the Netherlands. I saw a Tidal Bore in france (on the Garonne), but that was in the south west near Bordeaux. The wave is sometimes 3 m high.

          The Graves de Vayres is a really really good bordeaux. If you find some, buy it !

      • Hi Lurking and Sa’ke. L’Escaut (the Scheldt) has its source in France and crosses the border into Belgium about 30 km from where I live. It is heavily furnished with sluices. So no Tide Bore (except maybe in the estuary). The Belgian and Dutch are very good with water related problems. They’ve been dealing with them literally for centuries. For instance, during the Somerset floods this winter in Britain, some heavy duty pumps used to try to mitigate the effects of the floods were supplied by a dutch company.

        • I know l’Escaut/ de Schelde has it source in France but I was mainly commenting on the tidal part in the river which is in Flanders. Does Lille also lays along L’Escaut or le Lys/Leie (an important tributary of the Scheldt)?

          • The distances you mention seem large to me, (Ghent 200 km from the estuary seems a bit large number). Lille is along the Deule which is a tributary to the Leie. There is a canal that links the Deule and the Schelde.

            • It were rough numbers out of my head but your right, Ghent is 160 km from the mouth if you follow the river. Rupelmonde is around 110 km.

    • I am suspecting similar, of course not a funner, but I do think that the magma body in combination with the fissure works as an “antenna” receiving teleseisms and earthtide waves better than any other strainmeter I know about.
      There is also a well known anomaly under Búrfell itself that makes Búrfell react faster and better than the other strainmeters around Hekla as Hekla erupts.

  4. a 3.2, 2.8 and 3.1
    12.05.2014 15:25:52 63.673 -23.310 8.8 km 3.2 99.0 1.3 km WSW of Geirfugladrangur
    12.05.2014 15:25:51 63.652 -23.329 8.0 km 2.8 90.03 3.6 km SW of Geirfugladrangur
    12.05.2014 15:22:30 63.668 -23.298 7.4 km 3.1 99.0 1.2 km SSW of Geirfugladrangur

  5. Ok, I would have a question that strikes at the very foundations of volcanoholism; since a am a “new kid on the block” in this area and there is this thing that kinda bothers me: How do you overcome the “moral issues” of liking volcanoes? I love volcanoes because of their incredible power, unpredictability, the buildup to the eruption and how they can be the end or the beggining of life.
    But its all fun and games untill shit gets real and lives are lost and property destroyed. At that point I feel bad about liking volcanoes, or almost feeling guilty. How did you, my fellow veteran volcanoholics, overcome this “moral issue”?

    • Volcanoes will do what volcanoe does, whether you watch or not, or like them or not. Nobody likes to see or hear about people and animals coming in harm’s way, or losing property. What happens to people living close to volcanoes and the life cycle of volcanoes are two different issues.

      To me, the important thing is to work towards better safety for people, as much as I can influence anything, and to refrain from “voyeurism” when bad things happen.

      Unfortunately, we do not live in a world where people can avoid volcanoes altogether, and we can only hope and work at educating for the best outcome.

    • I respect volcanoes and want to understand how they work. I only “Like” pretty eruptions that do no harm. If there is a disaster (volcanic or earthquake), I contribute to the relevant aid agency.

      But bear in mind that volcanoes can do long term good: providing minerals, geothermal energy and tourism.

    • The majority of volcanoes that erupt are fairly innocuous. The real issue is with the few volcanoes in which a large population lives in a very close radius to the volcano. Luckily, the majority of volcanoes with a large populace in a close area typically erupt in a much more mild fashion.

      Of course, there are a few volcanoes that are better off if they never erupted. Campi Flegrei, Amatitlan, Rainier, Taal, Apoyeque, El Misti, and a few others have legitimate risks of a large loss of life even if an eruption would be an “average” eruption from these volcanoes.

      Once you get into the VEI-7 range, you probably would expect a high loss of life if it’s somewhat close to any populated area. One good thing is that there are probably more volcanoes that would qualify as being “in the middle of nowhere” than there are in populated areas.

      Areas like Kamchatka, the Aleutian Islands, and the high Andes have a pretty high propensity for large-scale caldera forming eruptions, but very few people live within miles of these volcanoes, so the risk is pretty low for any major life-loss.

      So overall, there is no moral ethical dilemma. It’s something that we can’t prevent, so there is no reason to feel there is a side to take here – it’s just nature doing it’s thing like it always has. Sooner or later, a volcano will likely change the course of human history in modern times, but until then, it’s fun to sit back and learn about the mysterious nature of volcanoes.

    • I know what you mean, but after having followed this for a couple of years I actually feel pretty good about our community here. Volcanos, unlike earthquakes, generally give us some warning. And I am now pretty confident that even the big stuff is primarily a local/regional thing that, theoretically at least, you can plan for. (ok, let’s leave Naples out of this for the moment).

      Growing up in NZ and realizing just how mega-scary the Taupo Volcanic Zone is and what it can do made me feel pretty uneasy, particularly as I have family living both in it and downwind of it. But even if something big happened in the TVZ I am pretty sure if you got out of the exclusion zone in time you would have a very good chance of surviving. Your house might not but hell.

      We live on an active planet. We don’t have a right to being guaranteed three score years and ten of undisturbed life in the middle of paradise. If we are lucky, we get them, but we don’t have a right to it. And Mother Earth will just keep on doing what she has been doing over the last 4.5 billion years. We are just passengers.

      And this is where I think you can combine a love/fascination with volcanoes and our time here on Earth. In our own little way we help raise awareness of what to do and what not to do to avoid the impact of an eruption. If you had been here during the Merapi eruption you would have been amazed at the interaction going on between contributors here and local Indonesians. And I am pretty confident every poster here thought the man of the mountain was talking out of his derrier when he convinced people to stay put and consequently 300 died from pyroclastic flows. Had they listened to us, this wouldn’t have happened.

    • Most have given good answers allready so I do not have that much to add really.
      I would just like to add that the difference would be big if I had to make the big decisions that could save lives or potentialy kill people.
      That is in the end why I would not like to switch jobs with Boris Behncke at INGV. Sitting in the hot seat during a volcanic crisis with responsibility for keeping as many people safe as possible… I can just tip my hat at those who can handle that.
      And also, I think that is why I love Icelandic volcanoes, they are about the largest volcanoes that could go off without killing loads of people.

    • I concur with everything said here. It is fascinating to study volcanoes and a wonderful success story that lives can be safed because of the knowledge gathered by volcanologists.
      As long as “liking” has no real-world consequences, there is no moral dilemma in my opinion.
      There are over 1 million traffic related deaths per year. Should people feel guilty for liking cars? I don´t think so, but it´s a moral obligation to drive safely.

      • And my favourite example. Worldwide two people die from putting on their socks. Every day.
        Life is dangerous, but volcanology and spreading as correct information as possible about volcanoes saves lives. It is not like we are causing volcanoes to erupt. That would be immoral.

      • I suppose a moral viewpoint would be the more you know about volcanoes, what they do, when they do it, warning signs – real and imagined, how they do it, and most importantly, why they do it. The better you understand your envrions, the better you and your family can survive what happens there. An example would be how humanity generally learned the valuable lesson to not stand out in a field or under an isolated tree on a hill during a lightning storm. You can make better choices about where and how to live. You can help educate your neighbors and family by example. You and yours will live longer, better and more prosperously because you are making better choices based upon your knowledge that happens to come out of this particular hobby. In some ways, it is the quintessential Invisible Hand, capitalist approach to life. Cheers –

  6. Changing gears completely and surprisingly Why do Scientists use Infra-red Spectrometers as a part studying what in Volcanoes(?) What other devices do volcanologist use other than GPS systems? I imagine that there is a whole slew of them.

  7. Back from North Wales and very interesting Geology. Husband was more interested in Zip Lining but I did feel very at home in the slate mines. 🙂 There was a plus side to being a little old lady, I fitted nicely into the low tunnels.
    Blaenau Ffestiniog is a very grey, small town in Snowdonia, North Wales. Since the closure of the working slate mines many inhabitants moved on. Sheep, however are taking over, as all good sheep do 🙂
    This view from our hotel window is just across the road from the tiny Ffestiniog Railway…….we saw more sheep on our train journey……..

    A good time was had and now back to work weeding and planting on my veggie patch.
    Glad to see no eruptions in my absence. I am watching Hekla again….I have this feeling………

    As to the morality of watching potentially lethal Volcanoes…… There is nothing we can do to stop disasters happening but by watching, monitoring and alerting and educating our children and others via the internet, maybe we can help to save more lives. Who cannot marvel at the power of the natural world and the huge powerhouse that is beneath our feet. We should revel in these wonders. A young student may be reading VC and may be so inspired that he/she may be the scientist in the future who discovers how to predict events……… keep watching, keep enjoying and keep commenting.

    • Quite a while back, Joseph Heller wrote a book whose title has become part of the US English lexicon. “Catch 22”.

      I was reminded of it when I heard a news snippet that Colon cancer is most agressive in men with low vitamin D levels.

      Exposure to sunlight is a primary source of Vitamin D.

      Its also a contributing factor to skin cancer in men over 55.

      • I think with stuff of this nature, it’s a matter of exposure level and moderation. In this instance, sun-burn is the big culprit, whereas simple exposure to sunlight isn’t nearly as bad in terms of skin cancer rates.

      • I concur.

        While leaving the waterfront in Earl one day, I noticed the forearms of the DoD gate guard. Totally creeped me out. His skin was seriously malformed and blemished… like I had never seen before. This was just his forearms. I’m guessing that he had an issue with prolonged sun exposure over the years. The only time I had seen skin of such strange consistency was one of my dad’s index fingers. The skin would builds up and peel off. It never became more than that since he died of heart failure before he could see a doctor about it.

        In retrospect, I am guessing that it was some sort of radiation exposure to his hand. He had done a lot of arc welding over the years and I know that electrons bombarding a metal surface can generate X-Rays of varying intensity, depending on the voltage levels. Even with welding gloves his hand would have been exposed to that. The true talent in welding is being able to draw an arc with your probe and maintain a consistent metal flow.

    • I love that area. Portmeirion down the road is my idea of heaven along with the marvellous Ffestiniog railway. And I love the slate mines and the road from Betwys y Coed into Blaeneau Ffestiniog.

  8. I’ve been following VolcanoCafé from the very beginning in November 2011 … and even following other volcano sites before. I suppose that the eruption at Eyjafjallajokull prompted my “active” interest, as it affected my trip to Canada!

    My studies were definitely not scientific – I’m a commercial and language person, with a love of geography in all its disciplines … atmosphere, climate, weather, peoples … etc etc. I also love gardens and so reading Diana’s contributions is a real delight … and, of course, I love eating and drinking, so keep those recipes coming! 🙄

    I’m off for my first trip to Iceland at the beginning of June, so what will I find? All the things I’ve read (and tried to fathom out) on VolcanoCafé will help me understand a little more the geology of the scenery that I will discover. Will there be an earthquake, will there be an eruption … who knows? Whenever and wherever it happens it will be of immense interest to all volcano followers, but I’m sure that we all hope that people’s property will remain intact and no lives are lost.

    Thanks to all the people who take so much effort to contribute such interesting articles … and if anything interesting happens in Iceland during my visit, I’ll try to send a photo or two! 😉

    • Hi Mike

      plot update is in the making and will arrive this evening. One pic for teasing….

      HEIRDUBREID SWARM 13/05/2014

      view from the south

      and view from the east

    • Is it my imagination, or in the drum plot are there some rather mushy looking rumbles? Is magma starting to play a part?

      • when the video is available, you’ll see that there is a sort of moving curtain of quakes moving between 65.1 to 65.15. As to what they portend to, I’ll let others speak, I’m not an Iceland connoisseur enough. The color of the dots relates to the date scale on the left side of the colorbar.
        here are the links to the originals

  9. Korn – Coming Undone.

    I present this video in order to showcase some of the art of H. R. Geiger, Swiss surrealist painter, sculptor and set designer. The microphone stand is a custom Geiger design.

    Other notable works are the set and creature design for Aliens, and the cover art of Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery album.

    He died in Zurich from injuries suffered in a fall, a representative of the H.R. Giger Museum in Gruyeres, Switzerland, tells the AP.

  10. I can’t find this link to the drum plot site. I’m sure it was posted somewhere here. Anyone show me? Thx

    • Hello James!
      It is not that technically simple to do. At least not in a way that would not drive people away. And what we will not do is to destroy the “feeling” of the place. Remember that most people here came from a place that tried to make funny solutions to clean the comment thread, so I am afraid of doing unpopular things with the comment track.
      But, if anyone has a great idea I promise that we will listen carefully since we always want to develop Volcanocafé into a better place.

  11. update on Heridubreid area – don’t forget to change the resolution, HD is available (see on the bottom right)

    Sismicity around herdubreid from 14/04 to 13/5/2014.
    Size of dot is proportional to magnitude (see scale on the plot)
    Date is given by dot color (see scale on the left side fo colorbar)
    Elevation is shown on the right of colorbar.
    Data from IMO, NOAA, made on Gnu Octave 3.2.4 , Qt Octave – (Ubuntu 12.04 LTS)

    There seemed to be some move to the north, but the last dots show a reactivation of the southern zone. look at 22”. Some strange jumping visual effects are due to some programming glitch, I’ll fix that next time.

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