BFF-51 Icelandic volcano swell signals potential eruption

444

ZCZC

BFF-51

ICELAND-VOLCANO-EARTHQUAKE

Icelandic volcano swell signals potential eruption

REYKJAVIK, Jan 27, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Small earthquakes and a so-called
“inflation” of the mountain, signalling a potential volcanic eruption, have
been reported near Iceland’s famous “Blue Lagoon,” local authorities said
Monday.

The Icelandic Met Office declared a state of uncertainty over the weekend,
following days of several smaller earthquakes and a swelling of the mountain.
Alert levels for aviation were also raised from “green” to “yellow,” defined
as when a volcano “is experiencing signs of elevated unrest above known
background levels.”

For nearly a week, a series of earthquakes have been shaking the area
around Grindavik, not far from the steaming waters of the “Blue Lagoon,” a
popular geothermal spa in southwestern Iceland on the Reykjanes Peninsula.

The largest recorded quake had a magnitude of 3.7.

Swarms of earthquakes are not unusual in the area, but the fact that they
were occurring alongside an “unusually fast” inflation of Mount Thorbjorn, a
few kilometres (miles) from Grindavik, was “a cause for concern and closer
monitoring,” according to the Icelandic Met Office.

A rise of about 3.0-4.0 millimetres a day has been detected, totalling 2.0
centimetres on Sunday, and is suspected to be from magma accumulation a few
kilometres under ground.

Depending on the cause, a few scenarios are being considered.

If the rise is due to accumulation of magma in the volcano, it could
either simply cease or continue to build up, potentially leading to an
eruption.

But if the rise is due to tectonic activity, it could signal more powerful
earthquakes in store.

The peninsula is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North
American and Eurasian tectonic plates diverge.

“It’s too soon to try to distinguish which (scenario) is the most likely,”
Pall Einarsson, professor of geophysics at the Faculty of Earth Sciences at
the University of Iceland, told AFP.

Einarsson said that in the event of an eruption it would be “the most
peaceful kind you can think of.”

“We always have to plan for the worst, so we are planning for an eruption,
but the most likely scenario is that this event will just stop,” said
Rognvaldur Olafsson, chief inspector at the Department of Civil Protection
and Emergency Management.

New measuring instruments were due to be installed on Monday to monitor
the activity more closely.

In 2010, eruptions at Eyjafjallajokull sent a huge cloud of smoke and ash
over Europe, resulting in the cancellation of more than 100,000 flights,
stranding some eight million passengers.

The last known eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula was nearly 800 years
ago.

However, according to Einarsson, eruptions in this region of Iceland are
“effusive” with a narrow flow of lava and a small amount of ash, meaning they
are not likely to cause harm to people.

BSS/AFP/FI/ 2230 hrs