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.
A Mystery Bubbling Just Below
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.
There are about 20 super volcanoes on the earth and activity continues to mount at Bardarbunga with reports now of over 500 earthquakes hitting the area since midnight of yesterday. The swarm has continued since August 20th. As the molten rock pushes up between plates, they move causing multiple earthquakes and allowing the molten rock to move higher.
Scientists in Iceland say they are examining several ‘cauldrons’ found near Bardarbunga volcano, which could potentially be a sign of an eruption.
The cauldrons, depressions in the volcano’s surface, each between 10-15m (49 ft) deep and 1km (0.6 miles) wide, were seen during a flight on Wednesday.
Iceland’s Met Office said they were formed “as a result of melting, possibly a sub-glacial eruption.”
Fractures, about four to six kilometers long, have formed north of Vatnajökull outlet glacier Dyngjujökull, northeast of Bárðarbunga, as reported by RÚV, visir.is and the Icelandic Met Office. Small calderas (also known as lows or cauldrons) have formed in the glacier and it cannot be ruled out that an eruption has started.
A fracture in the ice
The Bárðarbunga volcanic system resides in Iceland and recently had its alert level raised to the second highest level of orange. There has also been a fury of intense seismic activity in the area since the 16th of August.
Bardarbunga is considered a super-volcano with a crater of just over 16 miles wide. The volcano currently resides 2300 feet under the ice cap.
Throughout history there have been large eruptions every 250–600 years. Þjórsá Lava is the largestholocene lava flow on the earth, it originated fromBárðarbunga