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July 14, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Another Icelandic Eruption in the Offing? It Depends

[Katla erupts! Just as I was about to upload this post on Iceland’s Hekla Volcano, news of the latest eruption of the Katla Volcano landed in my Inbox. Timing is everything, as they say. Read more of the most recent Katla eruption here.]

The quote, “No eruption is starting at this time,” caught my attention. This was from an article about an ongoing discussion scientists and journalists are having about the pending eruption of the Hekla volcano in the south of Iceland. What’s that you say? Another Icelandic eruption? For the past several years, geophysicists have been saying the volcano will erupt soon, while on the other side of the room eager journalists translate “soon” into “now” (imminent sells; pending does not). Reminds me of another quote (that I’ll twist just a little bit): “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘soon’ is.” (With all apologies, if needed, to the source.)

Hekla volcano and horse. Photo: Wikipedia

In terms of geology, “soon” can mean tomorrow or it could mean 10 years from now — or more. Either way, there’s no denying that things are percolating under Hekla — magma is on the move and the volcano has risen a meter in overall height. Yet even as a meteorologist, my first question is, “Where are the earthquakes that would indicate an even more imminent eruption?” There aren’t any. At least not yet.

But even multiple earthquakes, or “earthquake swarms” as they’re called, don’t guarantee an eruption. YourWeatherBlog jumped on the “imminent eruption” bandwagon earlier this year as the moving lava and earthquake swarms of Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcano lead scientists (and journalists) to proclaim the nearing eruption. As yet, Bárðarbunga has not erupted. Even in September of last year, the earthquake swarms were occurring. We wrote, too, about Katla last July. It also falls into the “soon” category as the then-imminent eruption has yet to occur.

Iceland is one of the most active volcano zones on Earth. Hekla falls into the Transitional Alkalic Basalt. Image: Wikipedia

Hekla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes. It’s a stratovolcano — the type known for explosive eruptions. Frequent eruptions have moved Hekla to the top of the list of lava production: Hekla has produced some of the largest amounts of lava of any volcano in the world. Scientists note the overall timing of eruptions is quite varied and, as more time passes between eruptions, the potential for an even greater eruption grows. Hekla’s last eruption was in February of 2000. Interestingly, Hekla’s lava does not typically interact with ice — an explosive combination, no doubt — so unlike its neighbors, it is not known for the amounts of volcanic ash that disrupts aviation.  (I should note that even volcanoes in equatorial regions, without ice, are known for disrupting air traffic.)

Thanks to ImpactWeather’s production of Aviation Weather Today, we like to stay on top of not only active eruptions, but also pending eruptions — especially those in the North Atlantic. And no matter when it eventually erupts, we’ll bring you the latest “soon” thereafter.

YourWeatherBlog has written about Icelandic volcanoes before. You can read posts about Katla, Eyjafjallajökull and Grímsvötn. Other volcanoes in the news this week include Indonesia’s Mount Lokon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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