Katla long overdue volcano is roaring and might erupt at any time

  • Katla long overdue volcano is roaring and might erupt at any time
Sep 30 2016

Katla under the glacier Mýrdalsjökull is an active volcano in the southern part of the Icelandic Highland.  “Active” in a geological sense is measured in tens and hundred of years of an interval between eruptions.  In the past, Katla has had the habit of erupting at least once-twice every century and has erupted twenty times since the Icelandic settlement in the tenth century. It has been a long time since the interval was as long as the current one. That is why Katla is monitored by the Icelandic Met Office and geologists around the clock all year round. An eruption of this much feared and respected volcano has proven to have enormous consequences and is defined as highly dangerous.

Unusually many and unusually large earthquakes at the heart of Katla

The reason both geologists and the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management is monitoring the volcano Katla is a series of earthquakes originating under the glacier Mýrdalsjökull.  Most of the larger earthquakes occurred around noon today and were above three on the Richter scale and the strongest one 3.7.  Such event can not be ignored, and now we have a moment of uncertainty that could end with a massive eruption or Katla would just go to sleep again. 

Eruption under a glacier is dangerous  just like we saw during the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in 2010

One reason for the danger if Katla volcano erupts is the fact that she sleeps under a blanket of thick icecap in the middle of the glacier Mýrdalsjökull.  When the volcano erupts, it melts the ice producing millions of tons of water in a relatively short time. And there is surely no lack of ice on top of this volcano.  The water then becomes an enormous force as it bursts over the neighboring Mýrdalssandur, to carry millions of tons of ice, rocks, and soil to the shore grabbing almost all obstacles and floating them to the ocean. 

The annual rounding up sheep's from the Highland is now underway as in 1918

The last time Katla erupted was the autumn of 1918. Just like now farmers were in their annual rounding up sheep in the area.  But unlike now no one was monitoring the volcano, so the eruption was a total surprise and life threatening for the farmers. In our interview with geography professor Guðrún Gísladóttir, she describes how her grandfather was one of the farmers and almost got killed as the eruption in 1918 happened fast and without warning.  Today there is probably not much danger as any movement, and earthquake is measured every minute, and of course communication has developed enormously.  The farmers are possibly on a quad bike with their cell phones in their pocket.

For those who are interested in following the development at Katla volcano, there's a web camera monitoring potential activity. Just click on the link, and you will get a view of the glacier and the volcano.