Iceland Mag

6 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


Analysis of the Bárðarbunga events: Magma appears to be moving towards Askja. A huge “geological event”, says Icelandic professor

By Sara McMahon

  • Askja region. Magma flow (an estimated 300 million cubic metres (10.6 billion cubic feet) now appears to be travelling away from Bárðarbunga and towards Askja. Photo/GVA

Ever since seismic activity began near Bárðarbunga volcano on August 16h, Icelanders (and the rest of the world) have closely followed events. Many fear a sub-glacial eruption, such as the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption, that could affect air travel overt parts of Europe, but in Iceland the main threat is of ice melting in great magnitude causing a huge “jökulhlaup”, a glacial outburst flood which could cut off the East of Iceland from the South.


According to a detailed report in Fréttablaðið newspaper today, there is still little evidence of a potential eruption in Bárðarbunga. However, the magma flow (an estimated 300 million cubic metres (10.6 billion cubic feet) now appears to be travelling away from Bárðarbunga and towards Askja, a volcanic system north of Vatnajökull glacier.

The magma still has around 16 kilometres (10 miles) to travel before reaching Askja, but if it were to continue to travel in the same direction at the same speed, it could reach the volcanic system in a few days. Askja volcano last erupted in 1875.

Professor Ágúst Guðmundsson with the Institute of Earth Science at Royal Holloway, University of London, explains the current events are of great significance to geologists.

“This is a huge geological event that will bring light to the monumental force needed to pull apart the earth’s crust, as is happening in Iceland right now.”

Ágúst adds that the ongoing activity in Bárðarbunga could trigger a powerful volcanic eruption but it is more likely that it will cause a small eruption or that the activity will simply die down without any consequences.


Aerial photo from the central highlands. Dyngjufjöll and branches from Jökulsá river. Photo/GVA


Iceland: Land of fire and ice
According to the Northern Environmental Educational Development’s webpage, the Iceland basalt plateau is “situated at the junction of two large submarine physiographic structures, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Greenland–Iceland–Faeroe Ridge“.

There are five active volcanic systems within the 70km wide and 200km long North Volcanic Zone.  Bárðarbunga, the second highest mountain of Iceland; ca 2000 meters above sea-level, is one of them.

Eruptions related to the central volcano can occur anywhere in the caldera, on the sides of the volcano and also in the fissure swarms to the NA and SW of the volcano. According to the IMO‘s website seismic activity has gradually increased in Bárðarbunga over the past seven years. This activity dropped down at the 2011 Grímsvötn eruption, but the activity started to gradually increase again soon after.


Aerial photo from the central highlands,northeast of Vatnajökull. Mount Herðubreið from above. Photo/GVA


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