Aug 27, 2014

According to data recorded by the University of Cambridge, the magma from Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano could be moving towards another large volcanic system. It suggests that 50 million cubic meters of molten rock has moved, just in the last 24 hours. If it keeps on a northern trajectory, it could feed into the Askja volcanic system, which could trigger a large eruption.

According to Professor Bob White, “It’s headed straight for it.” He cautioned, however, that volcanoes were hard to predict:

“It’s moving at about 4km a day towards Askja, and if it keeps going it will get there in a few days,” he told BBC News.

“We know there is a lot of molten rock sitting under the ground beneath Askja, which is a major volcanic system. If this molten rock hits that, we know it is likely to trigger it to erupt. “But who knows, it may just stop. It is still at 5km-depth, and it is possible it could freeze there and not a lot more will happen. That is perfectly plausible.”

Over the last 10 days, large numbers of earthquakes have been detected that have been moving north over a distance of about 40km. They are caused by magma flowing beneath the ground, which cracks the rocks as it moves.

Yesterday morning, the Bardarbunga volcano was hit by a 5.7M earthquake, the larges since the tremors began in the area last week. About 350 million cubic meters of magma has moved in this period, according to the team’s findings, which is about twice the amount of molten rock that was blasted into the air during Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull eruption 4 years ago.

Professor Simon Redfern, an earth scientist from the University of Cambridge, said:

“It is a huge amount of magma, creating an enormous subterranean channel of molten rock.” He said that the dyke – the underground “plumbing system” that carries the molten rock – could join up with other underground fissures, creating a large network of magma. Prof White added that several scenarios were possible. “One is that it erupts under the glacier,” he said. “That is bad news because this kind of eruption can drive the big ash clouds that can go up 35,000-40,000ft, and that is what happened in 2010 with Eyjafjallajokull.”

But that scenario is looking less likely because the magma is moving beyond the thick ice of the glacier into shallower terrain beyond. If it erupts in this region that has less ice-cover, it could create “fire-mountains” (plumes of lava but less ash).

Prof White said: “The third scenario is that it keeps going north, it keeps feeding molten rock and it hits the Askja system and triggers that – then goodness knows what will happen. It could make a lot of disruptive ash all over Iceland.”

The last major eruption of the Askja volcano was in 1875. The residents there experienced crop failures and killed livestock due to the ash fall, which triggered a migratory wave away from northeast Iceland.

Iceland Aug 27

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