Is the beauty Öræfajökull glacier ready to unleash its ugly red-hot magma beast?

  • Öræfajökull glcier/volcano
Nov 2 2017

In recent months earthquake activity has increased in Öræfajökull the southernmost outlet glacier in Vatnajökull icecap. Just like the increased activity in Bárðarbunga outlet glacier on the northern part of Vatnajökull this development is quite intimidating.  Both outlet glaciers are also huge volcanos, and both have a humongous amount of ice on top. In addition to increased earthquake activity, scientists at the Icelandic MET office monitoring Vatnajökull icecap and both outlet glaciers, have noticed that the icecap is rising.  This could indicate that the underlying magma is pushing its way to the surface under the glacier. Both indicators, earthquakes, and rise of the icecap, point to a growing probability of an eruption.  And even though an eruption in Bárðabunga can produce a large disaster, an eruption in Öræfajökull will cause a monumental natural disaster. 

Öræfajökull along with Katla volcano are the most dangerous volcanoes in Iceland

The main difference between the two is the distance to inhabited areas whereas Bárðabunga is more or less in the remote highland, but Öræfajökull towers over Skaftafell National Park and many farms, hotels and tourist attractions.  In case of an eruption, large scale floods could occur in the many rivers coming from under the glacier tongues stretching out from the Öræfajökull outlet glacier. As the ice above the volcano is on average about 400 meters thick major floods, loaded with mud, rocks, and ash, are expected in a short period threatening and destroying everything in its path.  Possibly within an hour from the start of an eruption.  The ash from the eruption would also be similar or worse than the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. The scenario is similar only to the most feared volcano in Iceland, Katla.  Fortunately, Iceland has many capable scientists equipped with state of the art technology to monitor the situation and hopefully give us all time to respond if we are faced with the worst scenario.

Öræfajökull stratovolcano is like many of its relatives, a beauty, and a beast

Öræfajökull is a stratovolcano similar to Mt Rainier in Washington state and Mt Fujiyama in Japan. It is the highest mountain in Iceland 2110 meters.  The diameter of the crater is about 4 to 5 kilometers, so in case of magma entrance, there is a lot of space to spew lava and ash in all directions.  In the Icelandic landscape, Öræfajökull and surrounding area are among the most beautiful places in the country, so a large area could be affected for years to come.  Its next door neighbor Breiðamerkurjökull outlet glacier and provider of icebergs to the Jökulsárlón iceberg lagoon could be affected. One thing is clear if an eruption occurs in Öræfajökull glacier, it will be a large scale natural disaster as under this beauty lies a beast, a vast chamber full of glowing magma. At least that was the case in two of its last eruptions in 1362 and 1727.