Iceland's 'Bardarbunga' volcano is lighting up the night sky


The image is from the “Live from Iceland” Mila webcam.

A second webcam image shows the eruption in progress from a different angle.

bardarbunga2_09-09-14h/t to Chris Beal via Twitter

The latest report from the Icelandic Met Office says:

The earthquake activity today continues at the northern part of the dyke intrusion. The largest earthquake  in the dyke since the end of August occurred at 16:27 today with magnitude 4.5. These are the largest earthquakes located today at the caldera rim:

kl. 06:15 M 4.8

kl. 07:20 M 4.6

kl. 14:48 M 5.0

kl. 17:53 M 4.3

An earthquake swarm is taking place north of Herðubreið. About 80 earthquakes have been recorded today, all below magnitude 2. Swarms in this area are not uncommon. Due to high concentration of SO2, scientists are leaving the area.

Background from the Met Office:

There are about 30 known central volcanoes, or volcanic systems, in Iceland. Bárðarbunga, the second highest mountain of Iceland; ca 2000 meters above sea-level, is one of them. The volcano is placed in northwestern Vatnajökull ice cap and therefore covered with ice.

The enormous size and nature of Bárðarbunga was not fully recognized until it was observed in 1973 on an image from a satellite, 800 km above Earth (see below). A caldera in the volcano’s crown, 11 km long on the longer side, is covered with approximately 850 m thick glacial ice. 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, for a distance up to 100 km from the central volcano.

Inevitably, immense eruptions and explosive eruptions are a possibility in the system with imminent threat of ice melting in great magnitude causing a huge jökulhlaup (glacial outburst flood). It is presumed that Jökulsárgljúfur and Ásbyrgi (see NLSI leita) were created in such cataclysmic events in prehistoric times. Large jökulhlaup in Kelduhverfi in the 17th century are believed to be related to volcanic activity in Bárðarbunga.

Over the last seven years, seismic activity has been gradually increasing in Bárðarbunga and the fissure swarm north of the volcano. This activity diminished after the Grímsvötn eruption in May 2011, but soon after, the activity started to gradually increase again. The current seismic activity began 16th August 2014.

Detailed chapter in English on Bárðarbunga

Because of the current seismic activity in nortwestern Vatnajökull, IMO has been allowed to distribute the chapter Bárðarbunga System, an extract from a much larger work in progress:

In 2011, the Icelandic government approved a proposal by the Minister for the Environment for the preparation of a general risk assessment regarding volcanic eruptions in Iceland. The initial three years have focussed on an appraisal of current knowledge and initial assessment. It will take 15–20 years to complete and require a joint effort by various institutions.

The proposal was based on an estimate made by the Icelandic Meteorological Office in collaboration with the Civil Protection Department of the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police, the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland, the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland and the Icelandic Road Administration.

Vatnajökull 1973


Landsat 1 satellite image from NASA, 22.09.1973. Vatnajökull ice cap, Bárðarbunga top left. More place names at the National Land Survey of Iceland.

73 thoughts on “Iceland's 'Bardarbunga' volcano is lighting up the night sky

  1. Climate science declares rapid ice melt around Bárðarbunga as proof positive of global warming. EPA announces plans to regulate emissions. Heavy fines planned for Iceland for failing to control their volcanoes. Obama closes border to ash fallout. John Kerry announces prayer vigil for Icelandic Muslims.

  2. From Jon Frimann :
    “This is a short notice. I think that eruption has started under the glacier in Bárðarbunga or maybe in the dyke area. I base this on the change in harmonic tremor that is now taking place. Please note that this has not yet been confirmed by Icelandic Met Office or by Rúv in Iceland at the moment. So this is unconfirmed reports from me at current time (01:13 UTC on 9-September-2014).
    I am waiting more details on what is going on with the harmonic tremor.”

  3. The IMO is also saying that the current subsidence in the Bardarbunga crater has never been seen before. Today the rate of drop increased almost 3 meters. The glacial ice cap is 850 meters in thickness. and has subsided around 15 meters in the center of the caldera.

    • I haven’t checked this evening, but as of this morning, people were still saying the subsidence has not been melting, but a drop in the caldera’s floor as magma gets diverted off to the dike and fissure eruption.

  4. What I find very interesting about this eruption is similar in way to how the 1783-1784 eruption occurred.
    That one killed 6 million people worldwide form the toxic gasses and lowered N Hem temps by -1C.
    Let’s hope this one is not as deadly but I have a bad feeling about the situation with all the 850m thick ice over the most active area with consistent earthquakes.

      • Compulsive viewing! Just hope that someone somewhere already has at least a glimmer of a response plan in case this happens again, especially on the Laki scale.

    • It’s not that similar – The Wiki page describes something quite different:

      On June 8 1783, a fissure with 130 craters opened with phreatomagmatic explosions because of the groundwater interacting with the rising basalt magma. Over a few days the eruptions became less explosive, Strombolian, and later Hawaiian in character, with high rates of lava effusion. This event is rated as 6 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index, but the eight-month emission of sulfuric aerosols resulted in one of the most important climatic and socially repercussive events of the last millennium.

      This eruption probably involves a much shorter fissure (for now), it started out with Hawaiian-like aa and pahohoe, so far has released little ash, etc.
      If the Bárðarbunga caldera hosts an eruption, then a lot of nasties can happen, especially with 850 meters of ice in the caldera. I assume the fissure eruption is taking a lot of pressure off Bárðarbunga.

      • counterintuitively lowering the pressure allows more gas to evolve out of solution. the same thing happens when you take the lid off a warm soda or beer too fast, it foams out, sometimes explosively.

    • Laki and this eruption are driven by the same rifting forces with some significant differences.
      In both cases the fissure is forming due to tectonic plate separation of not dissimilar length (laki 70km, this is 60km) However the region where laki occurred involved significant groundwater. At Laki it is suspected the plate separated at the crustal boundary forming a wedge of decompressional melt that propagated upwards until it hit the groundwater. This resulted in explosive decompression, blasting the surface fissure open and creating even more melt with lava fountains 1.5km high which convected SO2 into the stratosphere. Bardo on the other hand has seen a dyke form from the magma chamber which has hit the fissure swarm, creating a weak point from which the rifting has propagated under pressure from the infiltrating magma. No body knows if this will mean the rifting eruption will be bigger or smaller than normal.
      Previous eruptions in the ice free region of this area tend towards large scale effusive events.
      The joker in the pack is that the collapsing caldera could interact with subglacial water in a highly explosive way.

      • Have been in the Laki part of Iceland some 5 years ago, what a road: 3.5 hours drive for 38 km, crossing 8 rivers of two quite wide and one quite deep…
        The reward: an incredible view of the around 100 craters along the fissure from the top of the largest, the Laki itself, and the enormous lava fields around them. One can hardly imagine what that has given in poisoning the local sheep and inhabitants to the East of the Island and the accompanying crop failures there and in whole Europe.
        A few pictures of our round trips in Iceland, including the Laki district and the Vatnajökul/Bárðarbunga area at:

  5. Follow the thread daily on the Iceland Met site :
    Let me summarize some observations from the last week from this link :
    1) earthquake activity is generally decreasing
    2) The dyke has basically stopped it’s NNE propagation
    3) GPS indicates deformation outside the Baroabunga crater is minimal , indicating that magma inflow & magma outflow are largely balanced.
    4) The Baroabunga crater continues to subside & have larger earthquakes, likely due to magma withdrawal under the crater, feeding the dike.
    Given this, my biggest question as a geologist, is how big is the magma reservoir under Baroabunga ??
    If it is limited, I wouldn’t expect this to be anything but a run of the fill volcanic event. If it is large & enough volume is withdrawn via the dyke / fissure that the summit of Baroabunga collapses , then we might have an interesting situation.
    But at this point, I don’t see much to get excited about…. but that is subject to change as the situation evolves.

  6. The phenomena of dykes radiating from volcanoes is quite common & you may have even seen them before while traveling around. A couple examples to give you an idea what is going on at Baroabunga :
    Spanish Peaks Colorado :
    Shiprock New Mexico :
    There are differences in composition & tectonic setting but the dimensions of these features are similar to the dyke at Baroabunga.
    The main point being – a dyke intrusion / fissure eruption along the dyke isn’t anything particularly alarming.

  7. You may wish visiting for a wealth of real-time information0 on the eruption, links to official Iceland volcano and public safety sites, volcano science, pics and videos, and the occasional friendly chat. Really worth your time and the graphic material offered is outstanding.

  8. We could drill a relief well with those million degree heat resistant drill bits that Al Gore invented on Conan O’Brians show.

  9. My Mother always said I was precognizant. While I’ve seen evidence of that in my life I’m not sure. However I have a looming foreboding of what’s going to happen with this volcano. I have been around the web and the so called experts don’t have a clue so “my foreboding” is about as good a guess as any.

  10. Emitting more SO2 than the average coal fired power station does in a lifetime.
    But its ‘natural’, so that’s all right then.

  11. The video shows a common place basaltic efusive eruption. I an surprised that the ice was no real problem, though any flash flooding could have flowed straight to the sea with no local close with an iPhone to get a video.

  12. Flying under the radar with this is the fact that Katla has been showing renewed seismicity, and is starting to show cauldrons in the surface of the glacier sitting in its caldera as well. If you recall after the unpronounceable eruption in 2010, the president of Iceland said Katla would be erupting soon since they often erupted within the same time frame. I have noticed that the last couple of weeks have seen a lot of earthquakes centered in the caldera, so Iceland may be singing eruption in two part harmony.

  13. I’m intrigued by the ice being just another geological formation in all this. As in West Antarctica, the ice presses down in the middle of the caldera and the lava has to migrate outwards to lower pressure along fractures that are probably extended also as result of the confining weight of the ice. There is the phenomenon of volcanic eruptions below the ice, the lava forming upside down basin like forms called tuyas.
    In the pic, the ice cap has long melted away – probably formed during the last ice age. Such a form in present times creates an opportunity to measure the magnitude of lava magmatic pressures involved in volcanism. I’m not sure if anyone has done this. The Univ. of Washington researchers recorded seismically (I believe) an eruption in progress under the West Antarctica ice sheet, reported in WUWT some months ago. Probably at a certain thickness of ice, such eruption is not possible and the magma has to migrate to lower pressure at the edge of the ice sheet. A good PhD project I should think.

  14. “Gravely concerned” about Bardarbunga 9/9 22:00 GMT
    The subsidence observed since last week is now up to about 20 metres,
    Possible scenarios: Best to worst:
    1. seismic activity, and the Holuhraun eruption, dies down slowly.
    2. subsidence continue, as well as the Holuhraun eruption, or even another eruption starting nearby.
    3. subsidence in the floor of the caldera causes an eruption within Bardarbunga. would melt glacial ice, with power explosion with ashfall, The meltwater would eventually spill as a hot flood.

  15. Past 16 hrs: (Baering 3DBulge
    The only stuff bigger than a 2 in the area is in the Bardarbunga crater where there was a M5.4 11 hrs ago, a M4.8 and a M4.4 both 1 hr ago.
    little activity NE of Askja
    In the middle group around the fissure, that line of red dots are all about Mag 1, but shallow at 1 km, by time in the direction of Askja.
    Mag. 2 quakes deep. 11 quakes between M1.6 and M2.2, some in a vertical pipe.

    • Large-scale subsidence of the caldera occurs, prolonging or strengthening the eruption on Holuhraun. In this situation, it is likely that the eruptive fissure would lengthen southwards under Dyngjujökull, resulting in a jökulhlaup and an ash-producing eruption. It is also possible that eruptive fissures could develop in another location under the glacier.

    • Why M5+ 18 hrs apart?
      1. The system has reached a metastable status where the eruption at the fissure is at a relatively constant rate which is “deflating” the magma chamber under Bardarbunga at a constant rate allowing for a constant time between M5 quakes as the core collapses into the chamber. See the link to the schematic a 9/11 10:23.
      2. I have no idea. 😉
      While the explanation in (1) isn’t wrong, it doesn’t answer the questions:
      Why is the fissure eruption not increasing in length
      Why is the fissure eruption remaining constant in volume? Why isn’t it eroding a fatter lava tube? Why isn’t it choking off?
      Why did another fissure open up south of the main fissure and then peter out?
      As the core falls into the magma chamber, why are we getting a Mag 5 every 18 hrs and not a mag 4.5 every 6 hrs? Or Mag 4 every 2 hrs? (same energy per unit time.)
      What’s going on (and off) at Askja?
      3. Whether we get another day, 2day, week of 18hr spacing of Mag5 quakes, it isn’t going to stay that way for long.

    • Gas cloud from the eruption drifts to the east. High level of SO2, sulphur dioxide, was measured at Reyðarfjörður last night around 10:00 o’clock. The highest value measured were just under 4000 micrograms per cubic meter. These are the highest values measured in Iceland. High level, 685 micrograms per cubic meter, was also measured in Egilsstaðir.

  16. Past 16 hrs. Look at
    At Bardarbunga: a M3.7, M3.6 14 hrs ago, a M3.9 11 hrs ago, and a M 5.4 six hours ago.
    all SHALLOW!! Less than 5 km, the M 5.4 was about 1 km.
    Seismic activity at the fissure is deep and small. Biggest is a M1.8.
    There is a Mag 2.2 in the direction of Askja.
    I have not seen any estimates of lava flow rates from the fissure. From the webcam, it is still going on, but it could be at half the rate of a week ago.
    I think hopes that Bardarbunga is going to keep the cork in are fading as the quakes there move shallow.

  17. Past 9 hrs:
    Bardarbunga is relatively quiet. One M 3.4 quake in the past hour, but only 4 smaller ones.
    The activity is under the fissure, deep. A 6-10 of Mag 1.5 – 2.2 between 7 and 13 km and a bunch of smaller ones making a dense cloud. More activity, a little shallower, and bigger than a couple days ago.
    There is also some more activity than recently near Askja and NE of Askja, all along the trend of the rift.

  18. Past 16 hrs:
    At Bardarbunga: a M3.4, 7km 5 hrs ago, a M4.8, 10 km 4 hrs ago. Some smaller stuff, but not much shallow.
    At the rift, a M1.9 at 9km, a M1.7 at 7 km, another M1.7 at 13 km. some small stuff between 5 km and 12 km. Less than yesterday.
    Around Askja, nothing shallower than 4 km and total of 4 events largest M 1.2 and scattered.

    „It´s quite clear that there will be another eruption if the Holuhraun eruption stops,“ says Volcanologist Armann Hoskuldsson, who is monitoring the eruption.
    The lava field is estimated to cover almost 30 square kilometers by now.

    It is difficult to estimate the lave flow rate. There is less activity in the fountains, but an increasing percentage of lava is erupting directly into the lava flow.

    • I was just looking at Bardarbunga2 which looks like it is not sending, so I switched to Bardarbunga cam which is more distant from the main fountains. There was a nice fountain on the right side of the view with a smaller group of 1 to 3 small fountains on the left side of the picture. As I watched the fountains flared a bit brighter, then the rift between the 2 fountain spots let out a pulse along most of the rift. Perhaps around 3/4 of a mile in length? Since then the area went quiet with only the left side fountains still in action. That was the most active I have seen it as of yet.

  19. says it is 1 month since the earthquakes started. 20,000 quakes in one month.

    186 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0-3.9 were detected. 43 quakes were of magnitude 4.0-4.9, most of them at Bardarbunga’s caldera. A total of 23 earthquakes were detected of magnitude 5.0 or greater, all at Bardarbunga. The largest earthquake, a magnitude 5.7, struck on 26 August. That’s the largest earthquake in Iceland since a M6.3 struck east of Reykjavík in 2008.
    No significant changes have been observed in the ongoing lava eruption
    The big quakes have been in a drought for the past couple days. But they have come back:
    A M5.4, M5.2, two high 4s, three high 3s, two mid-high 2s. All at Bardarbunga.
    Another change is that there are some occasional small quakes SW of the main activity at Bardarbunga under the big glacier.

  20. Icelandic Civil Protection: 17.09.2014, 11:30 UTC:, via Facebook:

    Measurements show that the lava field in Holuhraun continues to expand. There are no signs of decreasing lava production.
    The subsidence of the Bardarbunga caldera continues with the rate of about 50 cm over the last 24 hours.
    Seismic activity has been rather intensive over the last 24 hours. Yesterday 7 earthquakes larger then M3,0 were detected in Bardarbunga. The biggest were M5,4 and M4,8 last night. Smaller earthquakes were detected in Dyngjujokull glacier and in north part of the dyke.
    GPS monitoring show irregularity in in the crustal movements over the last few days. This sign could indicate that the magma movement under Bardarbunga is changing.
    No change has been detected in water measurement.

    Since the Mag 5.4 at 9/16 22:00, 17hrs ago, it has been quiet.
    Only 5 quakes above M 1.8 and all below Mag 2.3.
    One of these are in the Askja area, Mag 2.0 at 3 km 4 hrs ago.
    Two M1.8 at the fissure, at 8 and 11 km
    Three at Bardarbunga, a M2.2 at 8km and M1.8 at 5 km.

  21. There is a 3.7 minute video of the Holuhraun lava fountains. Close up, full frame, at dusk and night. They appear to be in slow motion but that is only because they fountain so high. Meta data is missing, but I believe the video was shot within the past two days.
    The video isn’t as spectacular as the Sept 4, ‘Volcano at Night’ helicopter shoot posted above. Still, it is worth noting and viewing.

  22. You turn your back on it and ….
    In the past 48 hrs there are at least 20 quakes at Mag 2.2 or greater.
    1 was Mag 5.3 yesterday, six between Mag 4-5, eleven between Mag 3-4.
    All at Bardarbunga between 2 km and 8 km, save one at 10 km.
    It is my impression that the area of activity at Bardarbunga is expanding. Activity from 17.65W to 17.35W.
    The fissure shows many small ones at 5-13 km, the biggest was M2.2. There are a very few quakes at 15km extending SW toward Bardarbunga. The map gives me the impression the events are migrating SW under the glacier, but the 3D plots gives less an impression of this
    NE of Askja, the events are all Mag 0-1, not focused, slightly plainer, 2-8 km in depth.

  23. The past 4 hours have been active.
    There have been 7 quakes above M3 at Bardarbunga, one was a M 5 at 8 km, another M4.4 at 1 km. three hit within a few minutes of each other.
    over the past 24 hrs.
    The biggest at the fissure was a 2.3 and 2.5.
    There is a scattering of activity NE of Askja, biggest 1.7
    But there is more concentrated activity west of Bardarbunda, still small: biggest M1.5 at 4 km.

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