Iceland has been hit by more than 500 earthquakes since midnight, Aug. 27, 2018, as seismologists watch the volcano Bardarbunga. The volcano could erupt at any time, potentially affecting millions. In 2010 Eyjafjallajokull, a , massive volcano in Iceland erupted, spewing ash for miles. The eruption caused mass chaos when much of the airspace above Europe had to be shutdown for six days. There were 100,000 flights cancelled and 10 million people were affected.
The threat level remains at orange, one level below the top threat. On Saturday, the warning level was increased from orange to red, only to later be moved back to orange. The red warning level means that the eruption is underway or is unavoidable. Authorities felt the red threat level misrepresented the situation, as the volcano is not actively erupting. However, a no-fly zone remains in effect until further notice.
If the volcano erupts, experts are not expecting the magnitude of disruption in air travel that was seen when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in 2010, as airlines have changed their policies on flying in ash. In 2010 many airlines grounded their flights, fearing the ash would affect the jet engines. This was proven in 2011 when another volcano erupted in Iceland. There were far fewer interruptions in air travel during the 2011 eruption.
There is a possibility that the volcano will not erupt at all, as there is no sign that the magma is moving upwards. The Icelandic Meteorological Office issued a statement saying there are “no measurements to suggest that an eruption is imminent,” but the area immediately surrounding the volcano has been evacuated. Signs warn people not to get too close to the volcano as it could erupt.
The seismic activity in the area continued to increase over the last week, as thousands of earthquakes hit the area. Iceland has been hit with around 500 earthquakes since Wednesday at midnight. On the morning of Aug. 27 there was a magnitude 4.5 quake, which has seismologists concerned that an eruption will come at some point, although it is not possible for them to know exactly when.
Sunday two large quakes hit the area. On Tuesday morning the largest quake hit, measuring a 5.7 on the Richter scale. The area has been monitored since 2006 by researchers with the University of Cambridge, with the aid of 70 seismometers. Icelandic and British seismologists have reported that 50 million cubic meters of magma have moved over the past 24 hours and they are concerned that the molten rock could feed into the Askja volcano system causing a huge eruption.
Professor Bob White of Cambridge University told BBC News, “It’s moving at about 4km a day towards Askja, and if it keeps going it could get there in a few days,” but warns that volcanic eruptions are hard to predict. He also stated that the magma could freeze below the surface before it ever causes an eruption.
For the time being, scientists and the Civil Aviation Authority are closely watching the situation. They are working together and the Civil Aviation Authority will change the threat level if they feel the situation could become dangerous.
With volcanoes being so difficult to predict, it is hard for scientists to know if Bardarbunga will erupt. There is a possibility that there will not be an eruption, but with the 500 earthquakes measured since midnight on Wednesday there is also a possibility that Iceland could experience multiple eruptions.
By Amy Gilmore