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Geology

Magma movements in Öræfajökull volcano a clear sign of growing activity

By Staff

  • Kvíárjökull One of the outlet glaciers of Öræfajökull glacier and volcano. Öræfajökull is the southernmost part of Vatnajökull glacier. Photo/Gunnþóra

It is not clear whether recent developments in Öræfajökull volcano will result in an eruption, but scientists believe magma has been pushed close to the surface of the volcano's caldera. A geophysicist told the National Broadcasting Service that there were by now very clear signs that magma was thrusting its way into the crust in the southern edge of the volcano.

Clear signs of unusual activity
The science council of the Civil Protection Agency has met to discuss the situation at the volcano. Scientists now believe the activity of recent weeks is almost certainly caused by magma which has been thrust up from the mantle into the upper crust near the surface of the caldera.

Read more: Record number of earthquakes in Öræfajökull volcano

Unlike large volcanic systems like Bárðarbunga or Katla, Öræfajökull does not have an associated fissure swarm or a large magma chamber close to the surface. The movement of magma up toward the surface in the caldera is therefore unusual and a clear sign the volcano is stirring from its slumber. 

Following the meeting the agency decided to maintain an uncertainty phase at the volcano.

Impossible to say with certainty what happens next
A geophysicist who spoke to the National Broadcasting Service RÚV said that the magma is somewhere in the top six kilometers (3.1 mi) of the crust. He stressed that the mass of the magma was still relatively small, significantly less than what was seen in the lead up to the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption. The activity is still large enough to cause the creation of a new geothermal area in the volcano's caldera, powerful enough to melt deep cauldrons in the ice cap which covers the caldera.

Magma movements like these are also known to have continued for a long time before they either die out or result in an eruption.

"This chain of events can continue at this pace, it can slow down or pick up and we could even see it grind to a halt. But it could also end with an eruption. At this point it is impossible to say what kind of timescale we are looking at. Therefore it is imperative we keep the volcano under close surveillance to decipher the signals it is sending about its intentions. At this point we just don't know."

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

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