Over the past month, South Iceland has been experiencing apprehension in the Vatnajökull glacier, Europe’s largest glacier. In the Northern part of the Vatnajökull glacier lies the Bárðarbunga caldera, the most powerful and largest volcano in Iceland, Bárðarbunga. This 120 mile (200km) long Bárðarbunga volcanic system had four major earthquakes in a span of a couple hours on October 27, 2017. Consisting of a 3.9 magnitude earthquake, followed by a 3.2, 4.7, and another 4.7 earthquake.
As well, from the recent earthquakes, scientist have found that the Öræfajökull volcano, also located in the Vatnajökull glacier, has started to expand and a new caldera has formed. Öræfajökull has erupted twice in recorded history. Once in 1362 and again in 1727, in which the 1727 eruption had caused mass damage to farmland in Litla Hérað. At a current altitude of the Öræfajökull caldera at 1800 meters, increase in activity has caused officials to set out a yellow alert for Öræfajökull.
Moreover, the Grímsvötn volcano and the Hekla volcano have also reported having increased pressure since their last eruptions. Grímsvötn last erupted in 2011 and was the largest eruption Iceland has seen in decades, and Hekla, Iceland’s most famous volcano, last erupted in the year 2000.
Páll Einarsson, a leading volcanic expert, and geophysicist at the geological science department at the University of Iceland states that volcanic activity is rising in the Vatnajökull glacier, and we may experience major volcanic activity soon. “There has been increased pressure in both Bárðarbunga and Grímsvötn after the last eruptions, in both volcanoes.” Further commenting, “It would come as a surprise to no one if Hekla blows soon. It could also drag on for a while. We don’t know how long volcanos can endure expansion of gasses without coming to an eruption.” However, there are examples of increases in gas pressure in Iceland’s volcanos, that has not caused eruptions. For instance, in South Iceland, the volcano Hrómundartindur had an increase in pressure between the years 1994 to 1998 and was accompanied by earthquakes, but never erupted and the increase in pressure stopped. As well, the volcano Upptyppingar had increasing pressure from 2007 to 2008, but suddenly stopped and Upptyppingar never erupted from this.
Overall, major activity has been recorded in the Vatnajökull glacier, and a yellow alert has been sent out. The next major volcanic eruption in Iceland can take place at any moment, at any of the Iceland’s volcanos. With most of the volcanos on Iceland ready to blow, be alert and aware of the dangers when exploring in these areas.