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.


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.


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.


437 thoughts on “Probable eruption at Bárðarbunga

  1. The more I look at this swarm, the more I respect the one at Chiles. Two weeks ago, Chiles released almost half the energy of this swarm with only one quake out of the 400 that day. 😀

  2. natures time is not the same as human time, Askja had a major landslide on the 21st July, with unusual readings, a wale stranding in the west in early August, strange noises rumblings coming from Herðubreið, the EQ currently are moving towards Askja, if you look at Iceland as a whole it seems the mid-atlantic ridge is active, like something is ……..

    • Yeah… I kind of covered it all didn’t I?
      I am sorry that I could not be more exact, but right now that would have been dishonest since I do not know anything exact.

      DaDabunga – The Winner takes it all

  3. Danger of an eruption now being broadcast on Sky News here in UK. The only thing we are getting here from Iceland at the moment is bad weather!!

  4. Whats up with the slightly higher mags. around Mýrdalsjökull? Not really unusual at all, but since the rest of Iceland is more or less quiet compared to this region, and the latest is at 14km by first assesment, on 40 quality.
    Some overall strain release all of a sudden due to the plume activity? 😀

        • our LL seems to sound like the icelandic LL but yours seems to have a T in front of it

          [audio src="" /]
          [audio src="" /]

          so tll for wales is pronounced like ll for iceland

          Edward 🙂

      • Fitting have Grimsvötn there erupting (i.e. wrong volcano), but all other featuring volcanoes have non-erupting pics. But there exists (likely) few erupting pics of Bárðarbunga (1996).

  5. DragonEdit: Please stop posting retweets of comments made in here. It is highly annoying with reading the same comment two hours later as an eco.

    • Yes, thank you. I am beginning think this might be start of very major events regarding these two volcanoes but yet there seems be heavy sideways push inside the crust. A traverse fault and we get eruption.

    • Luisport… Not to be picky, but you know that most of those tweets have been written by people who are commenters in here that have allready written that in here?

      Both Cadarado and LorcanRK are in here 🙂

      I have asked you previously. So, here is a suggestion, how about you actually read the comments in here instead of just retweeting comments from in here? :mrgreen:

  6. Thoughts on this article?

    This bit didn’t make sense to me:

    ““The good news for air travel is that both these clusters are away from the heart of the main volcano, as it’s in the heart that the kind of magma is produced, which leads to highly explosive eruptions that produce the abundant fine ash,” said Dr Dave McGarvie, senior lecturer in volcanology at the Open University”

    • He’s referring to evolved magmas such as rhyolite (there’s quite a bit around this area). These magmas are stickier and (assuming the presence of water or other gas in the magma) this makes an eruption more explosive, which in turn makes the ash ashier and less like scoria. These magmas form after a long repose time in a magma chamber as crystals form and the magma fractionates.

      We saw exactly the same thing at Eyjafjallajökull. The fissure eruption on the flank at Fimmvorduhalsi was primitive (non-evolved) and consisted of magmas coming more or less straight from the mantle. This resulted in low level lava fountaining and hardly any ash. This posed no danger to air traffic in Europe. That problem came from the eruption from the main crater where the combination of more evolved magma (i.e. stickier stuff) and water from the ice cap led to the fine ash clouds that stayed aloft over the north Atlantic and Europe for so long.
      Does that help?

  7. Went to bed last night figuring there’d be changes to the news looks like that is happening.
    BTW doing a flight to Wintrhop Wa, in the next couple days of heart of OWL and Missoula Flood country, and on the edge of the noth Cascades. I’ll be solo coming back if I can may have some good camera shots…

  8. Two stars left on the IMO map. In a few hours, only the one from the 4.5 quake will remain if there are no new M3+ quakes in the meantime.

  9. I’m interested to see if we get another few more pulses from the mantle plume. Clearly a big wad of magma was pushed into the Bardarbunga area from the mantle, our proverbial magma pulse if you will.

    From the travel of magma, it seems like most of the current activity is working with the current batch of magma that arrived from depth without much new magma coming through after that first pulse (yet). What I’m curious is if we’ll see more wads migrate their way into the system in the coming time, or if this is a one-shot pulse. If it’s a one shot pulse, I think it’s already missed its opportunity to erupt (if it isn’t already)

    • The swarm deepest eqs are at 20-25km but the nearest mantle is at 40km. So a bolus from the mantle may have occurred in the past and be on the move now. At Eyjaf we watched the eqs get shallower over a few weeks, but they started at the crust/manlte boundary.

      • Peter, you are still forgetting that the fissure swarms are permanent stretches with thinner crust due to the pulling apart issue… So 25 km is the bottom of things there.

      • Clearly big enough to allow “His team at Volcano Café made a scouting flight over the area on Monday to see what they could see”

        Fair play 😉

      • Terrible journalism from a technical standpoint, but none of the readers on will know the difference, and it will still get the same traffic with only 1/4 of the effort of tracking down a real geologist for an interview.

        So in reality, it’s just the way things are these days with journalism and blogging. Accuracy comes second to getting headline stories out quick and making sure they’re interesting and readable.

    • Dusting up his geology degrees probably. 😉
      Only joking Carl of course. On the subject of Bardarbunga he knows his way around.

      I’ve started an update plot with a windowed number of quakes (to better see the movement, after a while the older quakes disappear).
      It will still take some time.

        • Well… I would like flying monkeys for Christmas, if you you guys can swing it. Oh, with some side human cloning too. I understand South Korea is good at this. Now thats a evil Science Facility I would like to work for.

      • Yes, I think so, too. Because otherwise, the connectivity would rise much faster and the rising also more visible in esp. Jökulsá á Fjöllum.(river).

    • Good evening yourself!
      For watchers: We here have the best coverage, second to none. Cloudy forecast “At The Front” (East of Bunga) for tonight. Only flyover by secial equipped radar planes only. I guess we might have to go by road to Sprengisandur roads but quakes are beginning appear in other direction. This can happen if paths to East get blocked. *not expert*

  10. I was wondering how much 25km^3 of basalt actually is. I live in utrecht, the netherlands, just above see level, in the middle of the country..
    The Netherlands is about 37.000 km2 That would give a layer of 70 cm all over the country and if it would flow down a bit more toworths the see, it would have solved all our problems with high water and we would have never become famous with our dams and dikes.
    If it would remain within the city, also 3-400.000 inhabitants like iceland, it would pile up to 250 meters high. The city is 100km2 and where i live and work. A crazy thought!!

      • Yes beautifull places, historic and and wich i restorate and work on for many years, not something you want to see burried under a layer of basalt.
        It’s not that i envy 25km3 over the country, just trying to grasp be numbers. 10^10 truck loads doesn’t help me 🙂

  11. Did some calculations in Excel:

    Note – the “Kistufell” category is almost entirely the earthquakes at the eastern swarm. I also removed any ghost quakes at a depth of 1.1 from the data set. There is significantly more activity under Kistufell than Bardarbunga right now as most know, so there was a lot more data for that swarm than Bardarbunga. Bardarbunga of course is largely where the swarm started.

    Apparently, it seems that quakes are getting deeper surprisingly enough even if the average magnitude has dropped slightly.

  12. Carl I’m wondering how do you explain the earthquake distribution, the “missing” or low up/downlift and a possible ongoing eruption?

    • Hello Mo!

      Well, to be honest I do not have the best of answers.
      I think I understand the dynamics behind the missing uplift. But the meandering earthquake swarm to the NE is a bit odd.

      I am planning a piece on it. At least the first half. But I will go into a few details about the odd NE swarm too.

      • What do you think about the following explanation?

        Fresh mantle magma reaches the main upper magma chamber beneath the main caldera of Bardabunga. The further way upwards is blocked. Because of less frequent magma eruptions between Askja and Barbabunga in the last several hundreds of years it is easier for the fresh magma to move along two different fissures. The magma migrates along the Dungjuháls fissure and the eastern fissure. Both are fed from the main magma-chamber. Therefor we don’t see much uplift because the most magma moves along the fissures and causes the strong east/west and north/south until now and not that much uplift.

          • Well if there is enough magma input from the mantle than the magma will come out somewhere. It could be on top of the main caldera or along one of the fissure. The magma produces a lot of pressure and at some point in the future the magma will find a weak zone and come out. On the volcanic Island of El Hierro the magma migrates lateral in the crust for 10 to 15km. This was also observed at other volcanic islands worldwide. Of course Barbabunga is not a volcanic island, but we know that barbabunga had a lot of fissure eruptions and therefore we can assume that there is a lot of lateral magma migration along the fissures.

        • Problem is just how it ended up in the Fremrinamár fissure swarm to beginn with.
          The fissure swarms are just 25km deep whereas the surrounding crust is 40km. So any arriving magma should follow the fissure swarms and not go ambling about between fissure swarms.

          Well, it did, but it should not. So my guess is that there is a fissure running that way. Probably an extension of the West Volcanic Zone as it hits Bárdarbunga. It is not unlikely that it could be progressing further still.

          • Well yes that is puzzling or rather not according to the common models.

            But what is the main reason that you believe that there is a volcanic eruption at the moment?

            • I thought that there might be one. But even a small one should have pooked up by now. I now think I was fooled by the amount of noise.

  13. If it is what I think it is then its the water flow from Vatnajökull. There is a broad sander. The water although not deeper than a few cms can spread over 100 or more meters as it streams over the sander. And I would expect that it gets higher/broader during day as more and more Ice and snow melts from the sun. Tomorrow morning it will be shallower again. I would not account this to volcanic activity unless it stays as broad in the morning.
    I’m sure the locals can correct me if I’m wrong.

  14. Civil Protection (@almannavarnir ) has declared danger phase for remote areas north of Vatnajokull – #Bardarbunga #ashtag (from @gislio on twitter )

  15. Just for fun, I plotted the flow trajectories for 10.000m altitude for Bardarbunga location. It is the ensemble trajectory system.
    The trajectory ensemble option starts multiple trajectories from the first selected starting location. Each member of the trajectory ensemble is calculated by offsetting the meteorological data by a fixed grid factor (one grid meteorological grid point in the horizontal and 0.01 sigma units in the vertical). This results in 27 members for all-possible offsets in X,Y, and Z.

  16. This is Down Unders image from above, I posted it here so it will be maximum size…

    DU, you are good at this…

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

      • Well, now it is clear that the Swarm is inside of Fremrinamár fissure swarm. How it ended up there is anyones guess.

        • Eruption. And thank`s for you from professional writings – it´s only a matter off time – I hope it`s not bad.
          Cafe .. “and cognac”.

        • It’s not in the Fremrinámur fissure swarm/volcanic system.
          See: Thordarson and Hoskuldsson, Postglacial volcanism in Iceland. (PDF)
          On their map, the Fremrinámur system (no. 22, p.3)ends to the north of Askja (no.21), but the Bárdarbunga system reaches still out in northeastern direction (no.18).

      • meaning, this is turning out to be more complicated than I first thought. There must be some link at depth between these three (even four locations).. It’s kind of hard to explain the simultaneous appearance of four different loci for swarms (namely the stalled but powerful swarm just south of Kistufell, the dike heading into the Fremrinamár fissure, Bárðarbunga, and that EW stack south of Bárðarbunga that was there in the beginning and now also appears to be reactivating. All that’s missing now is for the Kistufell swarm to start up again. Looks like a new pulse has entered the system from depth. Let’s see how this now pans out.

        • Two possible interpretations:

          1. A large pulse came in from Bardarbunga via the central mantle plume. Once this magma entered the system, it primarily transferred north into two separate fissure swarms: Dyngjuháls and the mysterious eastern swarm (potentially Fremrinamár). This diapir hit a road block or ran out of energy at Kistufell in the Dyngjuháls swarm, but has continued on the eastern swarm further north towards Askja Land.

          The question here is whether this would represent a one-shot magma injection, or just one “glug” of a larger magmatic pulse. Keep in mind, intrusions rise as diapirs, so you will rarely see them act as a constant stream of magma into a new system. I would guess that it’s just as if not more likely that we’ll see another diapir intrude into the system and we’ll potentially see a repeat of the activity that we’ve seen over the last few days.

          2. Tectonic strain has accumulated in the northern Vatnajokull region, and the entire region is trying to rift. Until the area tears wide open, earthquakes and minor tearing will occur until one of the regions snaps, leading to a volcanic rift. As the region separates, magma gets pulled up from the mantle.

          Considering this is an active rift zone above an enormous mantle plume, the reality is that it’s probably a combination of both of these factors along with quite a few other things.

          • Good interpretations. This intrusion in case it has burned out, has nonetheless paved the way for any further intrusions. So even in the scenario that this would be over soon, the whole story is far from finished. 🙂

    • New quakes at Bárðarbunga and a new direction for the swarm. Argh, what’s happening? 🙂 (that’s the 1000 kr. question)

      • Number of quakes last 48 hrs is on decline. All of Iceland.
        Fjöldi skjálfta:
        Stærð minni en 1 alls: 370
        Stærð 1 til 2 alls: 1090
        Stærð 2 til 3 alls: 150
        Stærri en 3 alls: 1
        Samtals: 1611
        I think competiton is off now.
        Did anyone get highest score?
        ( I think it passed 1640 mark)
        *Prises are thus withheld, UFN*

          • Yes, I failed that count could go higher than two-three days at most.
            This appears now be totally diffrent quake and injection model.
            Might even be how Laki, Veiðivötn and other similar events behave.
            *not expert*

            • I guess that the no of quakes one sees is only for the last 48 hours 😦 – so the total since it started is probably Close to 3000 if I understand IMO correct.

            • Ah! Thanks for that explanation old cowboy. I wondered why the number of quakes kept going down today! I thought they were just deleting some dodgy ones. DOH!!! *slaps forehead*
              Must get my brain seen too, not working well lately. 😀

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