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Iceland Mag

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"The Glacier of the Wastes" stirs: Earthquake swarm in Iceland's 2nd deadliest volcano

By Staff

  • Öræfajökull glacier The tallest peak in Iceland is located in the rim of the volcano's caldera. Photo/IMO

  • Location of Öræfajökull The southernmost part of Vatnajökull glacier. Photo/Loftmyndir.is

A sharp earthquake swarm hit Öræfajökull, the southernmost part of Vatnajökull glacier, yesterday afternoon shortly before five in the afternoon. The most powerful tremor in the swarm was a 3.1 magnitude quake at 16:57. It was followed by two dozen smaller tremors. The quakes were felt clearly in Öræfi district. According to geologists at the Icelandic Meteorological Office the quakes were not accompanied by signs of changing levels of volcanic activity.

The 3.1 magnitude quake had an epicenter near the surface, at a depth of just 100 meters (330 ft) in the south eastern part of the volcano's caldera, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office.

A total of 27 tremors have been detected in Öræfajökull in the past 48 hours.

Iceland's 2nd deadliest volcano
The ice cap of Öræfajökull glacier hides Iceland's second deadliest volcano. After lying dormant for more than two hundred and fifty years Öræfajökull has been showing growing signs of activity since 2016. The activity has been picking up pace in the past several months, with growing geothermal and seismic activity in the volcano's caldera. The volcano has erupted twice since Iceland was settled, in 1727 and 1362. This latter eruption is the second deadliest in Icelandic history. It laid waste to the entire district surrounding the volcano. Prior to the eruption the area was called Litla hérað, but following the eruption the name changed to Öræfi, which translates as "The Wastes".

Read more: Magma movements in Öræfajökull volcano a clear sign of growing activity

An Uncertainty Phase, declared by the Icelandic Civil Protection Agency is still in effect for the volcano. An uncertainty phase declared earlier this spring by the Icelandic Civil Protection Agency is still in effect.

A replay of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption?
The tremors in Öræfajökull should not be taken as a sign of an imminent eruption: It can take years, even decades, for a volcano to work itself up into an eruption. However, Öræfajökull has clearly woken from a 250 year slumber, which points to growing likelihood of volcanic activity. It is believed that the volcano erupts once every few hundred years, suggesting an eruption is due any time in the next couple of centuries.

The behavior of Öræfajökull is also similar to activity in Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 1998. Twelve years later (in 2010) Eyjafjallajökull finally erupted. This means we might have to wait for a decade for an eruption in Öræfajökull.

Read more: Seven years ago today: Eruption in Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano with the un-pronouncable name

In the meantime people traveling in the foothills of Öræfajökull (the region between Skaftafell visitor center in Vatnajökull National Park and Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon) are asked to familiarize themselves with the evacuation plan for the region.

Read more: Emergency evacuation plan in case of eruption in Öræfajökull glacier

Catastrophic mountain collapse
In addition to the threat of an eruption Öræfajökull poses a second threat to travelers. The Icelandic Meteorological Office has warned that the retreating of one of its outlet glaciers, Svínafellsjökull, has created fractures in Svínafell mountain, threatening catastrophic mountain collapse. At the same time the volcano which lies hidden beneath the ice cap at the peak of Öræfajökull continues to tremble.  

Read more: Civil Protection Agency warns catastrophic mountain collapse a threat at Svínafellsjökull glacier

 

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