Should we bomb Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcano?

Aerial bombing of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano was done in the past, widening the eruption crater to minimize high flying volcanic ash problems.

B18sMaunaLoaEruptionApril1940WUWT reader “magma control” writes in with this suggestion:

The USAF bombed the Hawaiian volcano Mauna Loa, in 1935  and 1942  to divert lava flows threatening Hilo, and again for testing in 1975-76 [1, 2].

As in Iceland magma flow and strong quakes around Bardarbunga volcano area continue and officials do not exclude a big eruption [3], we propose an immediate serious consideration of using bombing to widen the crater in case of  an eruption, in order to prevent volcanic ash reaching high and causing too many problems in air-traffic (as from the same country in 2011) and climate.

There is literature support for the idea:

Modern aerial bombing has a substantial probability of success for diversion of lava from most expected types of eruptions on Mauna Loa’s Northeast Rift Zone, if Hilo is threatened and if Air Force assistance is requested… (Bulletin Volcanologique 1980, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 727-741).”

Here is a photo from 1942, and the results in a study below:


 

Mauna-Loa-bomb-1942

 

bomb-mauna-loa-paper

REFERENCES

1. Diversion of lava flows by aerial bombing — lessons from Mauna Loa volcano, Hawaii J. P. Lockwood, F. A. Torgerson. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02600367 Bulletin Volcanologique 1980, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 727-741
“Modern aerial bombing has a substantial probability of success for diversion of lava from most expected types of eruptions on Mauna Loa’s Northeast Rift Zone, if Hilo is threatened and if Air Force assistance is requested. The techniques discussed in this paper may be applicable to other areas of the world threatened by fluid lava flows in the future.”
2. Biplanes Bomb Hawaii Volcano 1935:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwX2Xn4OgA0
3. http://en.vedur.is/earthquakes-and-volcanism/articles/nr/2947

About these ads

127 thoughts on “Should we bomb Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcano?

    • Why is it Americans only response to something they clearly don’t understand is it either shoot it or bomb it?

      • you are right. But why bomb Mouna Loa? it is an effusive eruptive volcano and dust, if it forms, falls locally not high into the atmosphere. Barbarbunga is covered in think ice which is the problem.

      • Avoiding a new, devastating SIX VEI (as in 1477) eruption from the same place, is an international problem and US have some experience for all to consider. Iceland-UN-EU should have ALREADY declared their fatalism and humankind must demand OPEN DIALOGUE for ANY solution as the one proposed, that does NOT worsen condition (as it will take place AFTER an eventual eruption, with no-nuclear weapons), but may decrease substantially huge and world-wide volcanic clouding problems.

      • I don’t understand the Pentagon the Whitehouse the IPCC, WalMart, KFC, Muck-Donald’s ……so bomb them first.

  1. During WW2 American bombers succeded in diverting lava from Mt. Vesuvius that was threatening Naples.

  2. Hawaii and Iceland are two quite different types of volcanic fields. What works for Mauna Loa may well not work too well in Iceland. The Hawaii volcanoes form over a hotspot in the oceanic crust and are usually quite round in their crates. Even a cursory glance at icelands volcanoes will tell you that they adopt a linear form associated with the separating mid-atlantic ridge.I suspect that bombing them would be useless because they appear to eject magma through rifts in the earths crust so there is no means of making the crater collapse through bombing. Just a thought.

    • The Hawaii volcanoes form over a hotspot in the oceanic crust and are usually quite round in their crates. Even a cursory glance at icelands volcanoes will tell you that they adopt a linear form associated with the separating mid-atlantic ridge.

      Iceland is a combination of both.

    • Also an Islandic hotspot. The island has two types of volcanicity and many lava types. The iceland volcanoes tend to be violent because of the ice covering, giving Plinnian eruptions, but some are effusice. Barbarbunga is a stratocone under an ice sheet.

  3. Bárðarbunga volcano is not going to erupt. I’ve seen these predictions over the last 20+ years, and they never seem to erupt. An exception is Mount St. Helens in WA state. But there were indications of a bulge forming in addition to the multiple earthquakes.

  4. They should definitely bomb it. At night.

    With some Led Zeppelin playing over really big speakers.

    And lasers. There should be lasers.

  5. What a totally awesome story. I had no idea that this had been tried. Definitely reposting this! (and a little of advertising of this site never hurts!).

  6. To get deep enough, with enough power to blow a big enough hole in the dirt and rocks abpve the (potential location of the) magma bubble underground, you’d need one of the 22,000 lb Grand Slam weapons.

    Not that I’d recommend blowing the volcano at all. You’re pretending you’re able to precisely “solve” a future problem that may not occur at all by randomly trying to “make it better” ????

    • In the case of Hawaii, it is more an attempt to disrupt and reroute lava tubes rather than stopping the eruption. It is just a matter of subtly (with really big bombs) changing path and flow characteristics. It probably wouldn’t help in Iceland, but it is true that if we were able to widen the eruption fissures, we may be able to decrease the nozzle effect that ejects matter into the flight routes. The problem is how big of an explosion would be needed and where? Rifts are a different animal then lava tubes. There is no empirical evidence to guide the decisions, but my quick back of the envelop says a tactical nuclear weapon might have enough energy to crack it enough to see some effect. Who wants to live downwind of that experiment? (not I, which is my indicator to not try it.)

  7. It would appear that the magma is heading north, deep underground, through a dike at a rate of 4km/day, as indicated by the progression of seismic activity. If it comes to the surface (big if), it will probably be via another system (the Askja system), not covered by a glacier and therefore probably less of an ash and consequent aviation issue.

    • True, true.

      But those “precise-guided” bunker-buster type weapons are not needed here. Here, the proposal is move large numbers of tons of earth. The layered concrete and steel above command bunkers is not present, and the thin (small diameter) shaped charge warheads needed to get a blast “into” underground bunkers is not desired when blasting big holes in the rock above a volcano.

      And the even larger surface-blasting fuel-air explosives put the energy above ground.

      But I don’t think this is a good idea in the first place.

  8. Besides the dike vs crater difference, there’s the question of volume; Bardarbunga has been known to send out several cubic km of lava/ejecta, so I doubt that a bomb is going to blow a big enough hole to make a significant difference.
    And bombing it now is a worse idea, because you’re likely to cause a much more confined eruption.

  9. ***better bomb it now, cos it won’t make any difference later!

    28 Aug: Sydney Morning Herald: Peter Hannam: Temperature hiatus periods to become a ‘thing of the past’ as emissions soar
    The momentum of global warming caused by the build-up of greenhouse gases is likely to overwhelm natural cooling processes within decades, according to research by the University of NSW…
    However, such “hiatuses” are increasingly unlikely if carbon emissions continue on their present trajectory, and will be “a thing of the past” by the century’s end, according to a paper published in Geophysical Research Letters.
    “From about 2030, it’s highly unlikely that we will get one of these cooling decades,” said Nicola Maher, a UNSW PhD-candidate and lead author of the paper. “When it does cool, it will not be enough to overcome the warming.”…
    The researchers used about 30 models to simulate different events, including volcanic eruptions of the size of Krakatau, the Indonesian island that erupted in 1883 with an explosion so loud it was heard almost 5000 kilometres away…
    ***By 2100, assuming greenhouse emissions continue to build at the present rate, “even a big volcano like Krakatau is very unlikely to cause a hiatus”, Ms Maher said…
    The threats posed by global warming were also raised by the World Bank on Wednesday.
    Rachel Kyte, a vice-president of the bank and its special envoy for climate change, told a Canberra meeting the world is headed “down a dangerous path” with disruption of the food system possible as nations struggle to feed themselves…

    http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/temperature-hiatus-periods-to-become-a-thing-of-the-past-as-emissions-soar-20140827-1091p3.html

    • The banking system is headed down a dangerous path with the disruption of its victims unable to render any more cash.

    • Not being in the academic mill-stream, I do find myself a little puzzled by PhD students as lead authors on papers that seem to have little direct relevance to their thesis project. Ms Maher’s CV here

  10. Sadly NATO seems to be obsessed with giving people bombs and then giving the same people bombs lately, so I doubt there’s much to spare.

  11. Editorial criticism: please get rid of the Times New Roman serif-heavy font. That’s designed for easy reading on physical paper and gives everyone a headache if they have to read it on a screen. You had Helvetica or similar for a couple of days and it was much easier on the eye.

    • A font with serifs that is easier to read than TNR is Georgia. I’ve read that it is as universally recognized by devices as TNR.

      • I’ve found the site significantly easier to read in the new format. Please keep serifs either way. I keep the brightness on my monitors turned down so that it’s more like reading paper and less like reading a TV, though — might be useful tip for others in meantime.

  12. Don’t bomb, use lawyers. File suit for damages against the earth and demand the award in fossil fuels.

  13. Bombing would only intensify explosive eruptions, and lava flows are not a threat on iceland, perhaps a meltflood, but in this case that water is directing into unhabited areas.

    Read klemetti’s blog.

  14. This story, by the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RUV), was updated on 28, August 2014, at 02.20 GMT.

    >>>Possible eruption near Bardarbunga<<<

    A row of newly formed cauldrons (depressions) was spotted in the Vatnajokull glacier near the Bardarbunga volcano during a reconnaissance flight today, leading to speculation that a small eruption had begun there. Scientists estimate that 30 – 40 million cubic metres of ice have been melted.

    According to a statement from the Icelandic Civil Protection Agency (CPA) early Thursday morning, three cauldrons were seen, 4 – 6 km long, 1 km wide, with a depth of 10 – 15 metres, near the southeastern rim of the Bardarbunga caldera. They are not believed to be associated with the intrusion that has been propagating to the north in recent days.

    Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson, professor of geophysics at the University of Iceland´s Institute of Earth Sciences, estimated in an exclusive interview with RUV that the subglacial activity had melted 30 – 40 million cubic metres of water beneath the cauldrons. In this location, the glacial ice is hundreds of metres thick.

    As the cauldrons are at a location on the watershed line between the northwestern and the southern part of Vatnajokull, there are indications that the meltwater has flowed to the nearby reservoir at Grimsvotn (another active volcanic site in Vatnajokull), about 20 km away. "But there is a large degree of uncertainty in all this, and until we fly again tomorrow over the area, it is very difficult to say something substantive about this," he added. "Circumstances at the glacier today were not favourable and we can not exclude that more cauldrons have been formed,“ Gudmundsson said. "We will hopefully know more after the reconnaissance flight tomorrow morning."

    Earthquake monitoring has not revealed any signs of volcanic tremor in the area where the cauldrons were found, and there are no indications that a large eruption is underway. Monitoring of nearby glacial rivers has not shown any increase in volume or conductivity (usually a sure sign of magma-water interaction).

    Cauldrons like the ones seen today are usually formed by a subglacial eruption or geothermal activity in the bedrock under the glacier.

    Strong seismic activity has been detected in the area around Bardarbunga caldera since Aug. 16, with magma flowing out of the caldera to a dike intrusion propagating to the north and east of Bardarbunga. That activity is still ongoing.

    Volcanic eruptions are frequent in Iceland, though they seldom cause harm to humans. The last volcanic eruption in Iceland was in 2011, when Grimsvotn, another subglacial volcano, spew a plume of ash 12 km (7 mi) into the air, leading to the cancellation of hundreds of flights internationally. A more notable eruption occured in the spring of 2010, at Eyjafjallajokull volcano, causing a major disruption of European and transatlantic flights.

  15. >>>Possible Eruption Flood: Where Will the Water go?
    BY BENEDIKT JÓHANNESSON August 28, 2014 00:38 GMT<<<

    Specialists at the Iceland Met are now saying that there is no doubt that the calderas/lows are a visible sign of water melting. Specialist Sigurlaug Hjaltadóttir told RÚV that this could be due to an eruption or very great geothermal activity. She said that the calderas are east-south-east of Bárðarbunga, indicating higher possibility of an eruption.

    Sigurlaug said that an eruption could possibly have started in the last few days, hence causing the icecap to melt. It is estimated that the glacier is between 400 and 600 meters thick in that location.

    The big mystery is where the water might flow. A huge flood in Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacial river has been feared, but there is no indication that the water level has increased there. Another possibility is that the water has flooded into Grímsvötn, a glacial lake, but then the icecap on top of the lake should have risen. Measurements are not available on that yet.

    Should melted water have flown into Grímsvötn lake it would be collected there before a flood would start to the south west of Vatnajökull glacier. This happened in the river Gjálp in 1996 when a bridge was swept away, hence closing the Iceland Ring road.

    Víðir Reynisson at the Civil Protection told RÚV that the calderas are located more to the south than expected. Hence, it is difficult to predict where a possible flood would come out, to the north or south of Vatnajökull.

    Víðir said that the weather had made it difficult to make some observations during a flight this afternoon, but that the calderas/lows seem to have been formed, several kilometers long and quite wide. It is difficult to explain by anything else than considerable heat below the ice.

    “We might not have the results for certain until tomorrow morning when we can fly over the glacier again.”

    When asked whether an eruption had started Víðir replied:

    “It is difficult to say, but if these changes are sudden it is difficult to say what else it could be than an eruption. It was difficult to see this evening, but the lows were not there on Saturday. What scientists are looking into is that a lot of water should be formed when the ice is melting. We need time to evaluate the data.”

    Víðir continued by stating that the instruments of the Iceland Met show great earthquake activity.

    http://icelandreview.com/news/2014/08/28/possible-eruption-flood-where-will-water-go

  16. Hawaiian volcanoes are shield volcanoes that undergo non-explosive eruptions. Icelandic volcanoes are cone volcanoes known for explosive eruptions. Once a cone volcano has built up gas pressure inside, bombing it might trigger an explosive eruption as it weakens the cap rock. Like shaking a champagne bottle then pulling the cork halfway.

    It might work when cone volcano is quiet, no pressure buildup. With enough nuclear bombs it is possible to flatten a volcano. There’s no economic incentive to do it. Mining companies have literally flattened hills to extract minerals using conventional explosives and heavy equipment.

  17. Scientists told us in the morning radio news that a volcaninic activity must have caused the visible changes in the surface, including the 4 to 6 km rifts and depressions.

    The problem however is that no harmonic tremor has been detected.

  18. Who is this “we”? This seems like a very over prescribed solution to a problem that will take care of itself if “we” just sit back and wait with our cameras ready. It reminds me of the story about the guy who was diagnosed with a case of Hong Kong dong and the ensuing great consensus urgency among US doctors to amputate it vs waiting the usual two weeks for it to fall off. Old joke with a lesson to relearn.

  19. Should “we” bomb Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano? Depends on who you mean by “We”? And for that matter, the answer might also depend on the wishes of the Icelandic people. Can’t very well bomb a sovereign in the 21st century just because it would be fun to play with their volcano.

    • The other thing is that with volcanoes “there’s more where that came from”…. Iceland sits on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and also has a mantle hotspot beneath it. I also read that there is plate activity nearby (subduction?) and so there are plenty of processes in play to generate fresh magma.
      This “prevention” idea was brought up briefly on one of the volcano blogs (volcanocafe?) and it was noted that the forces in play are orders of magnitude higher than any device(s) we could throw at it. Not to mention the radioactive waste, etc., that would result. Hot, ejected, airborne, radioactive magma/ash anyone?

  20. With all the ice over the volcano and the magma building below there could be one BIG POP.
    I hope it blows it’s top way into the stratosphere soon.

  21. There is no need to bomb the caldera. An earthquake of magnitude 5 in the caldera was felt in Akureyri town a few minutes ago. Akureyri is 100km north of Bárðarbunga. I guess that the energy released is much more than from some man made bombs.

    You may be interested in this: Man Against Volcano – Eruption on Heimaey, Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland.
    See page 13: Control of the Lava Flows.

    http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/heimaey/heimaey.pdf

    Also a short video:

    1973 Iceland Volcanic Eruption

  22. >>>Flood from Bárðarbunga May Be Imminent<<<

    Iceland Review
    BY BENEDIKT JÓHANNESSON August 28, 2014 07:52Updated: August 28, 2014 08:56 GMT / Local Time

    As reported, geophysicist Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson said that a significant amount of ice has melted in Vatnajökull, yet earthquake monitors show no signs of a big eruption in Bárðarbunga.

    “Around 30-40 million cubic meters [1,1-1,4 billion cubic feet] of water have flowed from under there but we don’t know whether this has been happening in the past days or just today [yesterday]. However, by what we can see on earthquake monitors there are no indications of a great volcanic eruption taking place,” Magnús stated.

    “We don’t know what has happened with this water, whether it is flowing somewhere now or whether it has flowed down to Grímsvötn. We will have to find out once further observations have been made, he concluded.

    After carrying out a surveillance flight on TF-SIF yesterday, scientists said that a row of four 10-15 m deep cauldrons (also known as lows or calderas) have formed in Vatnajökull glacier, cautiously indicating that an eruption may have started or may already have taken place.

    Should the water flow to Grímsvötn, glacial lakes on Vatnajökull, that might indicate a possible flood to the south or southwest of the glacier as happened in Gjálp in 1996 when a bridge was swept away, thus closing the Icelandic Ring Road temporarily.

    Up until now, most scientists and the Civil Protection Department have worried about a big flood in Jökulsá á Fjöllum, a glacial river to the north of Vatnajökull.

    A new surveillance flight is planned at 9:00 am this morning.

    The area directly north of Vatnajökull is still closed for safety reasons.

    http://icelandreview.com/news/2014/08/28/flood-bardarbunga-may-be-imminent

  23. The Canadian Avro Lancaster VR-A will soon be heading back from Lincolnshire to Hamilton, Ontario. To defray costs, I suggest a Barnes Wallis Grand Slam bomb (22,000 lb) be dropped from it prior to landing at Keflavik to “loosen up” the ice cap. Get the Icelanders to throw in 100,000 GBP.

    This would combine a useful experiment with some nostalgia involving the mighty Lanc.

    You know it makes sense..

    • “James, The Lancaster was in Reykjavik a few weeks ago. I look forward to see them drop the Dambuster :-) ”
      Indeed, Agust, I tracked it to Keflavik on the flight from Goose Bay.

      Many thanks for the excellent video.

  24. neville August 27, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    Considering the USAAF’s reputation for the accuracy of their bombing during WW11, it’s amazing they hit the right volcano.

  25. Wow. This is a circumstance where it is really important to know that the real danger is cooling, not warming. If there are easy steps we can take to reduce the atmospheric residence time of volcanic aerosols by reducing the amount reaching the upper atmosphere we absolutely should be taking it.

  26. Ahem.

    The Army Air Corps unit that bombed the Hawaiian volcano was the 23rd Bombardment Squadron, my old unit from my B-52 days.

    We were quite proud of the unit’s role in saving the town of Hilo, as the squadron patch shows.

    Back in 1935 they had Keystone bombers, as Boeing hadn’t built any B-52’s yet.

  27. First a little history. In 1935, the aviation branch of the US Army was called the United States Army Air Corps. In 1942, US Army aviation was called the United States Army Air Forces. The United States Air Forces did not become a separate department until 1947 under the National Security Act of 1947, when the USAF came into being on 9/18/1947. So the bombing of the lava eruptions in 1935 on Mauna Loa was done by the USAAC and the 1942 eruption was bombed by the USAAF.

    From my reading of the attempts to divert various lava flows on Mauna Loa, it never really worked (and won’t) unless the flow was (or can be) diverted at the eruption site elevation which, given local topography, may be hopeless. Trying to disrupt a lava tube only means the lava will break out of the tube at a higher elevation and head downhill again and, more than likely, go right back into the area that’s trying to be projected. Any attempt to build dikes is also pretty useless unless it can be done, again, at the eruption site elevation. A dike at a lower elevation will be subject to backfilling from lava at a higher elevation that finds a path behind the dike. A lot of thought and research has gone on about active measures to protect public property and life and it’s pretty well understood that about the only thing that can be done is get people out of the way and let the property go.

    I know and follow this. I have a house on the Big Island’s Kilauea volcano and check the USGS HVO Kilauea Status Page most every day. Pu’u O’o, the site of Kilauea’s present Northeast Rift Zone eruption is uphill form my house. Either this eruption or some future eruption will some year (may it be a long, long time from now) cover my house site again.

  28. Jökulhlaup.

    Just wanted to throw that word in. Jökulhlaup is the Icelandic term for a glacial outburst flood caused by geothermal heating or by a subglacial volcanic eruption. It’s pronounced just the way it looks; kind of like jackalope but without the jack rabbit and antlers.

  29. A quotation from Charlton Ogburn comes to mind: “We trained hard … but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”
    Lava diversion, like reorganization, is “a wonderful method for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”
    Lava diversion is by nature only temporary, becoming obsolete at the next eruption. It is emotionally gratifying to those who are intimidated by the relative impotence of humans against the physical world. And it is counter-productive, creating lava-walled channels that will act to aim future lava flows in the same area directly at the site we seek to protect.

  30. Should we bomb Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcano?

    NO.

    Leave Iceland alone !

    Its one of the most geologically active places on Earth and a great place to visit for that reason.

    Let nature take its course – it will anyway.

  31. Mike McMillan
    August 28, 2014 at 6:51 am

    Not only no B-52s but not even a four-engine heavy B-17, whose first flight was on 28 July 1935.

    Subsequent produced Boeing bomber first flights:

    B-29: 21 September 1942 (super-heavy four engine bomber)
    B-50: 25 June 1947 (modified B-29)
    B-47: 17 December 1947 (jet medium bomber)
    B-52: 15 April 1952 (jet heavy bomber, still in service)
    B-1: 23 December 1974 (originally Rockwell, acquired by Boeing, still in service)

    • He didn’t say they used B-52s, he said it was the same unit from his B-52 days.

      Likewise, I was in the Eighth Air Force, the same unit the bombed Nazi Germany with B-17s, only I served 4 decades later.

      • I know that. My point was that the AAC was so relatively primitive in 1935 that it didn’t even have prototype B-17s yet. Its main bombers were still Keystone twin engine light biplanes, except for a few newer types like twin engine, medium Martin B-10s & Douglas B-18s (militarized DC-2).

  32. Indeed. They also attempted to channel the lava away from Hilo via bombing. The success or failure was impossible to measure, but that was known going in. What was there to lose?
    This, though, is a huge rift volcano, many times the size and length of the Mauna Loa rift. It may be impossible for any point explosions to have a notable effect. The 1942 eruption was crater specific and hence influence was potentially poassible. .

  33. She has raised mountain ranges, then washed the same into Her sea.
    Nukes ?, She brushes them off like a gnat.

  34. “Should we bomb Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcano?”

    Who is we? I have no bombs and no way to deliver them. I suppose I could throw a rock at it. ;-)

  35. Bloody stupid idea. Must be a Yank who put it forwards.
    The caldera is under a thick layer of glacial ice, that needs penetrating first, then the solidified lava cap. How thick’s that?
    It’s not like bombing a ridge, to divert a lava flow away from a residential area.

  36. MOST sites world-wide CENSOR ANY providence talk, except this one!!! Large eruption of Rabaul volcano, Papua New Guinea. 18km ash could and air flights rerouted: AVERTABLE!
    The proposal here says: widen the crater in case of an eruption”, that means bombing will NOT cause any eruption, tactical weapons will NOT worsen any condition, instead widening an exit hole decreases speed flow, thus we will NOT face the results of another air-traffic chaos, taking also into account that Bardarbunga gave in 1477 a very strong SIX VEI eruption, adding to the longitude of the Little Ice-age!…

  37. “Should we bomb Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcano?”
    Yes ……but only after we bomb the Pentagon the Whitehouse the IPCC, WalMart, KFC & all the worlds major cities first.!!!

    It’s an absolutely stupid idea; leave it alone to do its thing, watch & learn & enjoy the show.
    Nature controls us; we can’t control nature; so adapt or die but do no harm.

    Or if you’re religious, its god moving in a mysterious way!! …..SO leave it alone.

Comments are closed.