Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag

Geology

Unrest in Öræfajökull, Iceland's second deadliest volcano, continues to grow

By Staff

  • Öræfajökull The tallest peak in Iceland, the second deadliest volcano in Iceland. Öræfajökull has erupted twice in the last 1000 years, raining destruction and death on the surrounding countryside. Photo/Gunnþóra

Öræfajökull seems determined to unseat Katla and Bárðarbunga as the most terrifying glacier to threaten 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.  

Seismic unrest in Öræfajökull, one of the most powerful volcanoes in Europe, has been growing since the start of 2018. An Ucertainty Phase, declared by the Icelandic Civili 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.

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

A deadly volcano dormant for 250 years
After lying dormant for nearly more than 250 years the volcano suddenly began showing signs of growing activity in the fall of 2016. Since then the seismic activity has been picking up. The seismic monitoring system of the Icelandic Meteorological Office has picked up fourteen significant tremors in the the volcano during March. This makes March the most active month for the volcano since systematic measurements began in 1976. 

öræfajökull location

The location of Öræfajökull The southernmost peak in Vatnajökull glacier. Photo/Google Maps

Páll Einarsson, a geophysicist with the IMO, told the local newspaper Morgunblaðið in April that the tremors have been relatively minor, but they point to signifcant activity in the volcano, and are most likely caused by magma movements. The relatively small tremors are also notable because the volcano has historically been very quiet. They are a clear sign something unusual is going on.

"The tremors in Öræfajökull and the caldera of the volcano have always been relatively small, so there is very good reason to keep a close eye on the development."

A replay of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption?
Páll stressed that this did not mean an eruption was imminent. Volcanos move very slowly, he pointed out, and it can take years, even decades, for a volcano to work itself up into an eruption. He pointed out that the behavior of Öræfajökull now is 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

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