Alert increased because of possible volcanic activity at Öræfajökull glacier

  • Öræfajökull glacier on right side seen from Lómagnúpur mountain on the South Shore in Iceland
Nov 18 2017

Increased indications of volcanic activity in Öræfajökull outlet glacier in Vatnajökull on the south shore has moved the alert state to a higher level.  According to the Icelandic Med Office increased earthquakes, changes in volcanic related chemicals in glacial rivers floating from the glacier, and a new ice-cauldron taking shape on the top of the glacier are all unusual developments.  Not the least when all occur simultaneously. Icelandic Civil Protection Authorities have issued a state of uncertainty asking everyone traveling in the area to follow the news and stay informed.  Authorities are also improving surveillance in the area.

The alert follows the recent indication of seismic activity around Öræfajökull volcano in past weeks and increased monitoring of glacial rivers coming from beneath the glacier.  Although scientists and authorities are cautious, the situation is escalating and quite serious.  One of the reasons is the proximity to inhabited areas, famous natural wonders and major roads on the south shore.  If eruption starts under the glacier, the time factor for people placed south of the Öræfajökull glacier is essential.  A monumental flood could be imminent within an hour or two.  This could be crucial for people traveling the road, viewing Svínafellsjökull or Skaftafellsjökull or staying in Skaftafell.

Like the volcanoes, Hekla and Katla Öræfajökull volcano does not have a “regular” interval between eruptions.  Prediction is thus much more difficult.  On the other hand, the volcano has erupted twice in the historical time since the settlement in Iceland. Once in the 14th century and again in the late 18th century.  The first one was quite catastrophic ruining land, farms, and livelihood.  The latter one was less catastrophic but left inhabitants with lasting effects for decades.