Bárðarbunga volcano woke up on the night of the 16th August and by six in the afternoon it had had over 300 earthquakes. Today there’s been more than 1200 of them, the strongest one that happened last night being strong enough to be felt all the way to Akureyri. Icelanders are keeping a careful eye on the area just in case there’s going to be an eruption, which no one really wants. Bárðarbunga, you see, is one of Iceland’s most dangerous and destructive volcanoes.
…for Icelanders, that is, even if things go via the worst case scenario it’s most likely only Iceland that’ll suffer for it. Bárðarbunga (= Bárður’s bump) is a sub-glacial volcano just like Eyjafjallajökull, which does mean ash in case the eruption pierces the ice layer, but just like with Grímsfjall’s eruption it doesn’t necessarily touch the aerial traffic outside of Iceland. Grímsfjall had heavy type of ash, Eyjafjallajökull’s ash was light and therefore spread easily over the sea. Bárðarbunga erupts every 250-600 years so there’s very little documentation on its ash type, but Grímsfjall belongs to the same volcanic system so we may assume the ash type could be the same. At the moment it’s not even certain whether the eruption will even happen, or if it does will it actually pierce the ice layer so it’s best to not panic.
Ash is poisonous to animals but humans can get by with face masks if things get really grainy, taping the windows and washing the cars asap after the fall. It’s nothing new for Icelanders and therefore not even among the first worries. Worse is that Bárðarbunga is huge, and lies under a glacier. Let’s look at the possible scenarios that Eldgos (link) listed:
HVAÐ GETUR GERST NÆST
(= What could happen next; Icelandic uses the verb “geta” to mean “could”, which can be a bit confusing since the verb “can” is “kunna“. However, “kunna” means only one type of “can” – being knowledgeable enough to do something or to know something. The “being able to” -meaning of “can” is “geta“.)
1. Virknin stöðvast. Þetta segja sumir jarðvísindamenn að sé líklegast í stöðunni.
(= Activity comes to a halt. This, say some geologists, may be the likeliest to happen.)
2. Gos norðaustur af Bárðarbungu, við mörk jökulsins. Besta mögulega niðurstaða ef gos verður á annað borð er að fá það á íslausu svæði norðan við jökulinn.
(= Eruption northeast of Bárðarbunga, on the edge outside of the glacier. Best possible outcome if an eruption is to happen is to have it happen on the iceless area on the north of the glacier.)
3. Gos austan til í kerfinu undir þykkum jökli. Þar hefðum við sprengigos undir jökli með tilheyrandi öskufalli og jökulhlaupi að öllum líkindum á vatnasviði Jökulsár á Fjöllum. Mjög stórt gos á þessu svæði mundi valda hamfaraflóði.
(= Eruption on the east side of the system under thick layer of ice. There we’d have an explosive eruption under the glacier with notable ash fall and most likely glacier floods in the water system of Jökulsár. A large eruption in this area could cause catastrophic floods.)
4. Kvikuhlaup til suðvesturs og gos í sprungusveimi Veiðivatna. “Worst case scenario” …og sem betur fer afar ólíklegt i stöðunni núna því engin virkni er sjáanleg í suðvesturhluta öskjunnar og reininni sem liggur til Veiðivatna.
(= A flood towards southwest and an eruption in the Veiðivatn fissure area. “Worst case scenario” …and thankfully very unlikely to occur now because no activity can be seen on the southeast side of Askja and route that leads to Veiðivatn.
So before you believe the media telling you Iceland’s trying to end the world again take a deep breath and have a look at these sites that are closely following the activity and can give you a more realistic idea of what the volcanic system really is capable of.
Hjörtur Smárason at Raving Ravens (link). English.
Haraldur Sigurðsson (link). Icelandic.
UPDATE: just as I was about to post this things changed a little. The status of the volcano went from yellow to orange and if the eruption will begin it will most likely do so suddenly. Veðurstofan is a great place for earthquake-watching (link) and I will also add information here if something interesting happens!
18.45: a web cam has been set to monitor Bárðarbunga. You can watch it here.
20.19: no sign of the shaking calming down though there’s as of yet no sign of an eruption breaking through the glacier either. The highland roads above Vatnajökull have been closed for all traffic including pedestrians, the areas can be seen here. The river Jökulsá has reportedly more water in it than would be usual for this time of the year. Want to see the earthquakes’ locations in 3D? Go here!
22.20: last update for tonight before I’m off to bed about how Iceland is informing the rest of the world – Reykjavik Grapevine gathers all the important parts of info into one tight package (in English) here, and MBL has also began to give out occasional English reports on the matter, here.
Tue 19. Aug
07.13: the morning shows nothing new and the volcano has now been shaking without a pause since Saturday. There are now more articles in English available about the earthquakes here and the possibility of the volcano erupting here. Another interesting 3D map of the eruptions (complete with possibility of seeing just how many have happened within f.ex. the last hour) can be found here.
11.00: situation is still the same. Currently measures are being taken to avoid losing the bridges near Vatnajökull in case of a glacier flood (last time this area flooded the water swept away 17km of the most important road of Iceland, Ring Road 1). 200 people are still reported to be in the area now closed (link).
13.50: new web cam added, this time one that you don’t have to keep refreshing (link)! Another useful place is the FB page of Almannavaradeild here. Currently traveling here or planning to? Safetravel (link) is keeping up with all of the info that’s important for travelers. Situation at Bárðarbunga has not changed during the day, it’s still level orange.
20.20: danger phase declared at Bárðarbunga. The area is being evacuated (link).
21.17: learn to pronounce Bárðarbunga here.
Wed 20 Aug.
08.35: the area above Vatnajökull has been successfully evacuated. There are now earthquakes every minute in the area (link).
08.48: TF-SIF, a plane of the Coast Guard, flew over the glacier last night on its way back home from Sicily. You can see the material they managed to collect here.
News articles about the situation:
Óvissustig vegna Bárðarbungu (= on uncertainty level because of Bárðarbunga). (link)
Eitt öflugasta og hættulegasta eldfjall Íslands (= one of the most powerful and dangerous volcanoes of Iceland). (link)
Bárðabunga geti valdið hamförum við Dettifoss (= Bárðarbunga could cause a disaster at Dettifoss). (link)
Vegum lokad á hálendinu af ótta við eldgos (= roads on the highlands closed for fear of eruption). (link)
Stærsti jarðskjálftinn til þessa (= the strongest earthquake thus far). (link)
Nokkurra klukkustunda fyrirvari yrði á eldgosi (=eruption may give only a few hours warning). (link)
Possible volcanic eruption in Iceland (link). This one’s in English.