Magma surge towards the surface would be very powerful

By Kristján Már Unnarsson
Kristín Vogfjörð, seismologist and research director at the Icelandic Meteorological Office.
Kristín Vogfjörð, seismologist and research director at the Icelandic Meteorological Office.
The current situation at Bárðarbunga is many times more powerful than the one that led to the Gjálpar eruption in 1996. Several hundred earthquakes were detected back then, but today they're already in the thousands. Scientists interpret this as a massive magma movement that may quickly surge towards the surface.

Kristín Vogfjörð, research director at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, says that the current seismic activity at Bárðarbunga is many times more powerful than any on record for the site.

"It's very powerful," she says. For comparison she notes that thousands of quakes have been measured at Bárðarbunga in the past week, but in the Gjálpar eruption in 1996 they were only a few hundred.

The activity is interpreted as magma moving up under the Bárðarbunga caldera, then moving into an underground chamber to the northeast, under the Dyngjujökull glacier. It's possible that the magma stops there and never reaches the surface.

"That's a possibility - if the chamber can hold all the magma," says Kristín. She says that GPS readings suggest that the pressure is stable while the magma moves away from Bárðarbunga into this chamber.

"While this is going on, it may never reach the surface. But we still need to keep an eye on it because the volume of magma is incredible," she adds.

There are still no signs that the magma is heading for the surface. Kristín says that it's still at a depth of 5-10 kilometers.

"There is no indication that it's moving further up than that. But if it were to happen, it would happen very quickly," Kristín states.

Tengdar fréttir

Composed music from the Bárðarbunga quakes

"All music is just data, in a way. You can interpret Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as data, which is just notes of variable pitches at variable times. In that way, earthquakes are no different."

Activity in Bárðarbunga volcano

Over the last seven years seismic activity has been gradually increasing in Bardarbunga and the fissure swarm north of the volcano.

Magma flowing into Bárðarbunga caldera with great force

All highland roads north of Vatnajökull glacier have been closed and all traffic banned, whether by vehicle or on foot. The Bárðarbunga situation is now attracting worldwide attention on a scale similar to the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010.

2800 earthquakes in three days

Of these around 950 have occured since midnight today. Several of these events were larger than magnitude 3.

"There is full reason to expect an eruption"

The seismic activity in Bardarbunga on the Vatnajokull glacier is very powerful and therefore full reason to expect a volcanic eruption according to a specialist at The Icelandic Meteorological Office. A live webcam has been placed in the vicinity of Bardarbunga.

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