SKAFTAFELL, Iceland — Just north of here, on the far side of the impenetrable Vatnajokull ice sheet, lava is spewing from a crack in the earth on the flanks of Bardarbunga, one of Iceland’s largest volcanoes.
By volcanologists’ standards, it is a peaceful eruption, the lava merely spreading across the landscape as gases bubble out of it. For now, those gases — especially sulfur dioxide, which can cause respiratory and other problems — are the main concern, prompting health advisories in the capital, Reykjavik, 150 miles to the west, and elsewhere around the country.
But sometime soon, the top of Bardarbunga, which lies under as much as half a mile of ice, may erupt explosively. That could send plumes of gritty ash into the sky that could shut down air travel across Europe because of the damage the ash can do to jet engines. And it could unleash a torrent of glacial meltwater that could wipe out the only road connecting southern Iceland to the capital.
All of that could happen. Then again, it may not.
Such are the mysteries of volcanoes that more than four months after Bardarbunga began erupting, scientists here are still debating what will happen next. The truth is, no one really knows.
7 January 2015 10:00 – from geoscientist on duty
About 40 earthquakes have been observed in Bárðarbunga during the past 24 hours. A few were between magnitude 4 and 5. The largest occurred in the northeastern caldera rim at 13:36 yesterday of magnitude 4.4. A few quakes have been observed in the dike intrusion, all below magnitude 2. The eruption was visible on web cameras last night and seems to be of similar strength as during past days.