Bardarbunga Update 20140903


Holuhraun eruption looking north from Dyngjujökull (Photograph by Einar Gudmann)

Holuhraun eruption looking north from Dyngjujökull (Photograph by Einar Gudmann)

Since the appropriate Icelandic authorities have today publicly mentioned the possibility of a large, acidic and explosive eruption at Bardarbunga, we now feel free to inform you that this possibility has been discussed by the Dragons, behind closed doors, for well over a week. The key information comes from this official IMO graphic:

The first premise is that earthquakes do not occur in molten rock. Nor do they form a clearly visible ring shape such as the above except under one circumstance – they do so around a body of liquid, in this case magma. A conservative estimate places the size of this body of magma at 8 km diameter, height unknown but most likely on the order of 3 – 6 km, depth also unknown but relatively shallow. Using simple geometry, 4 x Pi x r3 / 3 yields a volume of ~250 cubic kilometres for a sphere, but for our flattened body something on the order of 125 – 140 cu km.

Image by the Icelandic Met Office showing the "beach-balls" of the likely ring-faulting.

Base image by the Icelandic Met Office showing the “beach-balls” of the likely ring-faulting, compiled by Stephen Hicks  @seismo_steve

The important question is not how much magma there is but rather how much of this magma is eruptible. The answer must be “not that large a fraction” as otherwise, Bardarbunga would most likely already have exploded. At this stage a guess would be no more than perhaps 10% or some 10 – 15 km3. Also, in almost all eruptions on land, perhaps no more than <40% of the eruptible magma actually erupts. That still leaves us with a potential eruption of several, possibly as many as 5 km3.

Another hugely important factor is the content of volcanic gases, above all humble H2O as this is what determines how explosive the eruptible magma is. Again, we most likely have a favourable situation. To judge from the magma erupting at Holuhraun, the content of SO2 is exceptionally high at as much as a cubic metre per ton magma. But the magma does not contain much water at all, hence the magma within Bardarbunga most likely does not as well. Any explosive eruption at Bardarbunga would probably not be highly explosive on its own.

But there is one exacerbating factor and that is the presence of almost unlimited amounts of water in the shape of the Vatnajökull glacier. If it finds its way into this magma reservoir should an initial explosive eruption remove the roof or lid off the magma chamber, it will result in more and very large hydromagmatic explosions to follow after an initial eruption. Whether we will actually see such an eruption is highly uncertain, but if we do, there is little chance of it being larger than, at most, Pinatubo in 1991 – in spite of the staggering numbers involved.

While we regret that we did not make these very interesting speculations available ten or more days ago, we hope our readers will accept and sympathise with our reasons for not doing so. Now that the appropriate Icelandic authorities have, so to speak, “let the cat out of the bag”, the reasons behind this voluntary restraint on our part are no longer valid.


Only the IMO and the Allmannavarnir can issue volcanic warnings and only London VAAC can issue Flight Warnings.

We know a few wish to go there right now.
But, remember to stay on the where the wind is not blowing, this is a very gassy eruption high in SO2. Even one breath of the exhaust would kill you.

Editor in Chiefs note

This article is obviously an extemporization upon one possible scenario. It is not a representation of the most likely scenario. With that being said, we have tracked the ring encirclement of what is now deemed to be a shallow magma chamber that was not previously known to exist. We will at all times take us the right to write and publish articles upon scenarios. These articles will always be based on fact and science as it is understood today. Our view and our articles might shift focus depending on the interest of the individual writer and the current level of knowledge.

But rest assured that any scenario we publish is based on data at hand and on scientific explanations of it. We at Volcanocafé think that we have proven this time and again. After all, that is why we chose to write about the area in such detail months prior to the eruption. We did though not write about what we thought was an upcoming eruption until the last possible hour since we awaited for IMO to publish something. In the end I wrote and published the “something is going on” article a few hours prior to eruption without IMO giving a heads up. But before that the discussion had been going for a couple of weeks about it.

In the end we where the first to see it coming, we were the first to write that it would most likely cause an eruption, and we also published articles on what we are seeing currently prior to it happening. In light of that we now feel that the time has come to openly say that there is a small chance that a larger explosive eruption could occur at Bárdarbunga in light of new knowledge. In this case we awaited the IMO and the Icelandic University to lift the lid first.

We do not do scaremongering, we do science and scientific debate.


1,549 thoughts on “Bardarbunga Update 20140903

    • 😀 yep. looks like she was! Mind you, you can normally move away fast enough. There’s a great description at the beginning of Volcanoes – Global Perspectives by Lockwood and Hazlett describing something similar on Hawaii when he almost got trapped. There’s also a video of a fissure opening and started to erupt:

      • That is really weird – in the first part of the video I thought it was filmed from a plane, with the noise in the background, looking down on a lava plain with a forested area behind – and then the second part is clearly filmed from the ground and you realise that the fissure is probably about 2cm across! Perspective can be a bugger!

        Makes me think of this:

        • um, I think you were right the first time. The first shot is from a helicopter and those fissures are about 20cm wide. In the final shot you can see the trees in the background that you can see from the air at the opening.

  1. Updated summary map for September 4 with added features: camera positions, possible site of new eruption and shark. 🙂

    • I think it’s a wind willy, there’s been a few floating about on the lava edge this morning, the white spot to the right is steam, I assume the lava flow is meeting water along that edge in places.

        • I’ve seen three of them equidistant along that line at one time. Surely it can’t be scientists/people as they are excluded from there right now? They go brighter and dim quickly. Is there such a phenonenom as lightning/static electricity at the top of a fault/fissure as it opens up?

        • In fact, watching again, there are now five separate points where they are coming, and they look like puffs of white steam/gas, as they are blowing in the direction of the wind (as seen by the bigger clouds of gas in the background). Yikes. Does that mean this is a new fissure opening as well as the two other ones spotted from the air this morning??

      • Could be smoke from edge of lava field. Looks to be smoke the same colour as from the main vents rather than dust or dirt. Hard to tell but it’s persistent. Also activity looks a bit stronger with big burst of smoke that billow up from the main vents.

        • I think they might be fumaroles. Dust devils whirl and move about quite a bit. These don’t seem to travel very much. But we’ll see soon enough, I guess. (*emphasis on “guess.” * *left my expert pants at home today*)

  2. This is now getting bigger and bigger. I can’t see the eruption ceasing any time soon and a sort of Krafla fire event seems the most likely outcome now.

    One question, given the increasing amounts of SO2 now being emitted there must be a cumulative build up in the atmosphere. How soon before this starts to be noticed in Europe? Given that at times our air is at times already quite polluted it wouldn’t take much of a “top up” to create a hazard to health.

    • @CultureVolcan 1h

      #volcan #volcano #Bardarbunga: forte anomalie en SO2 hier/strong SO2 anomaly yesterday (donnée/data GNOME 2)

    • If there was a major Caldera eruption that fissure eruption site would not be the best place to be.Think glacial flood and or pyroclastic flows?

  3. The white dot’s might be hot pixels on the camera. I think they replaced the cameras this morning, the image quality appears different to previous days.

  4. Hi guys.. 😄. fellow newbie and lurker ..Brilliant job guys and girls.. a million thank you for your incredible commitment to VC and for educating us novices!!

    …. Diane, I would have to agree with you on the new area you have marked .. its been fixed to the same position a bit to long for the usual dust bunny…..

  5. I can now see two lines of steaming vents on the Milacam, besides the old and new fissure eruptions. They are one in front of the other, moreorless parallel to the headland in the foreground, and well nearer to the camera than the old and new fissure eruptions. Is this where the next set of eruptions are going to occur, I wonder? They are white steaming/gassing, rather than orangey brown dust.

  6. If it was water, it would be billowing like pillows or clouds, not wisps like it is. I guess the proof will be at night when we can see the lava from that fissure E.

  7. So made this it’s not entirely correct but should give a indication also don’t mind my early google map markings for the fissures etc.

    • Those look more “evolved” than the main fissure at a comparable time in its life. I’d rate the risk of those expanding by tonight as significant.

  8. This Bardarbunga rooster is a bit of a magician,he is using misdirection to great effect.While everyone is going ga ga over the lava fountains in his right hand, he is performing his greatest feat sight unseen under a white sheet in his left hand that will leave the unsuspecting crowd speechless.

    • Mammoth?

      “RUV asked if there was not a mammoth got a rush when fire was opened in late. “It depends on what it would be much up. We have been seeing a very small eruption in this scenario too” (Google translate)

      • And here we were thinking we should be on the look out for sharks and the odd whale – no-one thought mammoths would turn up! 😮

    • One Giggle Translate paragraph caught my eye….

      “Altitude is just over six miles from the glacier snout and a 300 to 350 meter thick ice, says Freysteinn. He was hádegisfréttum RUV asked if there was not a mammoth got a rush when fire was opened in late.”

      No mammoths then. That’s a relief.

      • Now normally my dear I wouldn’t argue with you but I do not think you quite have this one right – the mammoths are not in a rush, so there IS a mammoth but he is slow and was late to the opening. **Adjusts tinfoil hat** We got mammoths! We got mammoths! ¯\(°_o)/¯

  9. A map of the situation so far regarding lava spread, the dot up in the right corner is where the lava has reached by this morning.
    The dot at the bottom marks the southern edge of the new fissure

    • Well that is very close to the river… should be an explosive meeting! Incidentally, has there been any mention/speculation as to the competing effects on the river of a lava dam vs jokulhlaup? Will a lava dam slow down a jokulhlaup? I’m thinking that a lava dam would be a mitigating factor perhaps, and that we may well see both effects here before long.

    • **Adjusts tinfoil hat** No mention of woolly mammoths? It’s a government cover-up! Who knew meteorologists were so devious? First sharks, now mammoths – ahhh! ¯\(° o °)/¯

  10. Any idea what could be causing the ‘hairy ropes’ appearing on the IVOT drumplots recently? Amplitude seems to be increasing steadily.

  11. I think BillG saw the new fissure first. I saw his screenshot in the wee hours. Have seen the “discovery” attributed to a tv reporter this morning. No way! BillG found it first.

    • According to the last page, mosaicd posted it 6 minutes earlier thatn BillG but without screenshot:

      mosaicd – September 5, 2014 at 04:18
      looks like another eruption has begun in the background

      • Whatever. It was BillG who put the screenshot up in the middle of the discussions we were having in the middle of the night. My point is that the reporter did not discover it first. It was a VC discovery. Thanks for your clarification on my post.

    • Just like a reporter. 😦 I can’t claim anyone on YT saw it earlier ’cause I can’t access the comments and I’m not sure they have a time stamp. Regardless, the Watchers (of Mila) were 1st without a doubt.

  12. Sizes are estimates only,
    Green numbers are updates based on new information. I do expect numbers to get closer and closer when now-casting, in the coming nights.

    64M, 102.72M 19.26M 38.52M

    And for the interested revised PPM is 6.42 meter. (that means a pixel is said size.)

    • FYI, PPM would not apply to the lava flow in the foreground.
      The new rift part would get its own PPM. Which means also i could refine it etc.

    • Has anyone estimated the current height of the craters/ridge that the eruptions on the northern fissure are building?

    • I think you’ll run into problems as without knowing an objects size at the fissure you have no way of correctly compensating for the different magnification levels used by camera 2.

      • I kinda have a object size etc the problem is finding ground level and some sort of broken of piece that shows the height near the rift show. so by webcam i would just say it’s impossible for now atleast. may be if you compare one of the visible mountains subtracted by their distance from the rift etc etc but basically you would still need something near the exits where you can get a view its height. may be with angle slopes volumes and dimensions?! idknw just randomly naming rather impossible things although that last one might do the trick actually but i don’t know how to do that it’s way above my head.

        • i think it would be going something like this. we know the released amount of magma m3 so take that with the average dimensions length width and depth (not height as that’s what we miss.) and then just calculate the missing height?! average it and may be account some how for slopes here and there.

          Or do the next best thing wait for IMO to tell us or release some proper elevation models 🙂 pretty sure sooner or later they start reporting on rift height.

    • Forget mammoths DRAGON!

      giggle translate:
      This is over two miles from the roots Dyngjujökuls and erupts in almost mile long fissure. Volcanic area is closed and people in the region need to wait for the dragon.

    • Giggle translation:

      “New Fissure two Rift Valley two miles from Dyngjujökli. Steam and gas rises to the southeast. In the video accompanying the report shows new volcanic fissure. First come the volcanic fissure opened on the last weekend but we can see the direction of new crack.

      Much brennisteinstvíildi measure around the eruption site, as yesterday. Conduction Jökulsá the mountains has increased slightly. There is considerable activity in older vent and step gufustrókar her up to 15 thousand feet. This is shown in the status report researchers council, which was published on the IMO website at lunchtime. It turns out that sigketillinn in Dyngjujökli seems to have deepened.

      This is over two miles from the roots Dyngjujökuls and erupts in almost mile long fissure.

      Volcanic area is closed and people in the region need to wait for the dragon.”

      Hey Mopsy! Keep an eye out! 🙂

      But seriously, at the 1:00 mark you can see the sinking of the glacier – wild stuff!

  13. Updated information from the IMO that refers to most of the speculation posted today!

    5th September 2014 12:20 – from the Scientific Advisory Board

    Scientists from the Icelandic Met Office and the Institute of EARTH SCIENCES and representatives of the Civil Protection in Iceland attend the meetings of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Icelandic Civil Protection.
    Conclusions of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Icelandic Civil Protection:
    At about 7:00 UTC this morning RÚV reported that new eruptive fissures had opened to the south of the on-going eruption.
    At 8:30, a surveillance flight with scientists from the IMO and University of Iceland observed the following:
    Two new eruptive fissures formed south of the previous eruption site in Holuhraun, in a graben, that had formed above the intrusion, about 2km away from Dyngjujökull.
    The eruptive fire FOUNTAINS from the new fissures are substantially smaller than in the older fissure. Steam and gas rises in a south eastern direction from the fissure.
    The cauldron in Dyngjujökull seems to have grown deeper since the last observation.
    No changes are visible in Bárðarbunga.
    Substantial amounts of SO2 are still being released to the atmosphere in association with the eruption.
    Conductivity measurements show a slight increase in conductivity in Jökulsá á Fjöllum.
    Some tremor was detected on seismometers shortly after 3:00 UTC last night. It decreased at about 6:00 UTC this morning.
    Considerable activity is in the northern fissure (fissure 1) and the height of the steam cloud is about 15,000 feet.
    There are no indications of the eruption in Holuhraun being in decline. The lava from fissure 1 continues to flow to the east north east and has grown in area since yesterday.
    Seismicity in the area is similar to yesterday’s activity. About 170 earthquakes were detected since midnight. Two earthquakes of magnitudes 4,4 and 5,3 were detected in the Bárðarbunga caldera region at around midnight UTC.
    GPS displacements have continues to decrease and are now within uncertainty limits.
    Four scenarios are still likely:
    The migration of magma could stop, resulting in a gradual reduction in seismic activity and no further eruptions.
    The dike could reach the Earth’s surface at different locations outside the glacier. Lava flow and/or explosive activity cannot be excluded.
    The intrusion reaches the surface and another eruption occurs where either the fissure is partly or entirely beneath Dyngjujökull. This would most likely produce a flood in Jökulsá á Fjöllum and perhaps explosive, ash-producing activity.
    An eruption in Bárðarbunga. The eruption could cause an outburst flood and possibly an explosive, ash-producing activity. In the event of a subglacial eruption, it is most likely that flooding would affect Jökulsá á Fjöllum. However it is not possible to exclude the following flood paths: Skjálfandafljót, Kaldakvísl, Skaftá and Grímsvötn.
    Other scenarios cannot be excluded.

      • (First ever comment) not a vulcanologist, but passingly familiar with dGPS data from work as an archaeologist: I’d assume it to mean that (like all GPS data) they still look like they are moving, but now this is within the limits of what you normally expect from slight changes in the calculated position due to atmospheric effects and other things that produce some uncertainty in the location information.

        Basically: any wiggling about observed is within the threshold they normally expect from noise /problems in the calculation.

      • This means the measurements are inside the statistical margin, in which you cannot say if you measured something significant or if it is just noise

          • My contention is that she is the perfect field research companion. Not only is she pleasing on the eyes, if you get into trouble, she can pick your ass up and throw you to safety.

            I’m guessing here, but I think she may also be as tough as nails. Don’t piss her off, even a stick can be lethal if wielded like a foil. (A foil is essentially a pointy stick)

  14. Long time lurker, first time posting. First thank you so much for all the knowledge you provide. I have learned so much from y’all. Now here is my question. I was asked by some friends to take videos of the eruption, because they were having a hard time accessing the MILA webcams. As I was recording yesterday about 12:30 Central time, I noticed in the center of the screen a cloud that would not go away. Not only did it not go away, but it kept streaming straight up into the air. It was far right of the fissure eruption. At first, several of us thought perhaps coming from the glacier, but we know that didn’t happen. Could the steam/cloud be the result of come from the new fissure that we see today? It is that exact spot. This streaming happened for hours. Like I said, you can see in the video, the darker eruption (almost looks like a large tall shadow) to the left is the main fissure, I am talking about the white streaming in the center of the screen. Thank you so much for any input. Hope I post the link properly.

    • And I messed it up again! The fissure is to the right of the streaming cloud….heck just watch the center of the screen, that is where it is. I’m so sorry, I’m a bit nervous posting.

      • Welcome! And heh heh, good job you didn’t have any, um, *interesting* tabs open on your screen when you took that!

        • Haha….well, This is all I have been doing lately….I have become an addict! So, I believe the only tabs that were up there were related to this event 🙂

      • No worries. :o)
        To me, that’s just cloud forming… there’s probably a atmospheric pattern set up in that area that is making water droplets condense there, perhaps because of the relative position of the ice cap. I reckon anything to do with volcanic-induced steaming will be more obvious at ground level, and less so at altitude.

          • I am wondering if it was the area below heating up so that above that spot a thermal would set up and cause the colder air from the glacier to react with the warmer are from the ground in that spot. Again no expert but I have read up a lot of Met sites and think this could happen.

    • I noticed something similar (if i understand what you mean) last night, just like a hot air column was keeping the clouds in the same position:

      No idea if that’s the real reason, *no expert* XD

  15. sCyborg, where were you last night when all the excitement was going on? missed your speculations. didn’t know you slept.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s