Volcanic Activity in the South
Iceland has many active volcanoes that could go off at any time. Well, maybe not at any time, but still… Scientists can tell us with certain accuracy which ones are “due” for eruption and when based on their previous patterns, give or take a few years or, indeed, decades. There are a number of volcanoes here that we’ve been waiting for.
Hekla is one of those as the pressure in her (yes, Hekla is a lady) magma chambers is, according to scientists, greater than it was before the last two eruptions. Despite this assessment, Hekla has remained calm, giving no further signs of erupting. For safety reasons, travelers have been forbidden to hike the mountain as Hekla gives almost no warning before she finally goes off. Yup, she loves the element of surprise. Mt. Hekla’s eruptions are spectacular wonders to behold, and if you follow all safety protocols and keep your distance, they are quite safe to look at. As safe as volcanic eruptions go anyway.
But there are other volcanoes to keep a watchful eye on and not all of them visible as they lie dormant beneath our glaciers. One of them, simply called Öræfajökull after its glacier cap in Vatnajökull, has been stirring recently. Öræfajökull is Europe’s second largest active volcano and has been lying dormant for close to 300 years. Unlike Hekla, this volcano gives out plenty of warnings in the form of earthquakes, the smell of sulphur in the air and a noticeable dent in the glacier’s massive ice cap. It does not necessarily mean that an eruption is imminent, but they are signs of activity beneath the ice that need to be observed and taken seriously. The area around Öræfajökull is, at the time of this writing, on yellow alert but this process can take a very long time. In the case of the now infamous Eyjafjallajökull, 16 years passed from when it first showed signs of activity until it finally erupted.
A worst-case scenario if Öræfajökull erupts will be a great flood as the icecap melts, meaning a quick evacuation of approximately 2,000 people (travelers and inhabitants alike). Because the volcano is beneath a glacier, this will also mean a great deal of volcanic ash. A better scenario is if the eruption takes place where the icecap is thinner, resulting in minimal ash and a more spectacular and viewer-friendly eruption with little flooding. Fingers crossed.
Yes, Iceland is a volcanic island, there’s almost always something going on beneath the surface, but there’s no need to panic. If you’re feeling worried, keep an eye on website safetravel.is or just talk to an Icelander. We live here and have weathered these events before.
Öræfajökull will no doubt erupt one day, be it this year or two decades from now. While we wait, it would be a smart move to practice the correct pronunciation so you won’t get into the same predicament as when Eyjafjallajökull erupted.
Öræfajökull: œːraivaˌjœːkʏtl or Uh (like duh) riva (like rival without the l) Yuh-kotl (like nothing we’ve ever heard of).
Photos: Inspired by Iceland, iStockphoto and The Icelandic Met Office