Icelandic eruption from space

Alright, I'm actually in Wisconsin right now for a wedding, but this was too cool to pass up ... the folks from the NASA Earth Observatory sent me this image (Natural-color, 10m/pixel) from the Advanced Land Imager aboard EO-1 of the Eyjafjallajokull-Fimmvörduháls eruption, both taken on March 24, 2010.

The Fimmvörduháls eruption in Iceland, taken March 24, 2010. Image courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory. Click on the image for a larger version.

You can clearly see the flow heading down the drainage to the east, slowly snaking down the snow covered area. I think the steam plume on far east (right) represents the nose of the flow as it encounters snow/water. The lava fountains are also seen on the image as well - the image does a great job of giving you a better sense of scale for this relatively small (so far) fissure eruption.

UPDATE 3/26/2010 3:21 EDT: For more details, here is the full NASA EO page on the eruption image.

This isn't stopping from people in the media getting uppity about the climate effect of the eruption - or, in particular, it Katla erupts - but at this point, it is still anyone's guess. There is also some great, close-up video footage of the eruption as well - but be sure to check out the comments on Eruptions for other great links left by readers on the eruption.

More like this

The eruption at Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls continues on - the explosive spatter and bomb eruptions at the new central vent (on the second fissure) were impressive all night, making the hikers/cars/aircraft look like mites in comparison. This eruption has, so far, followed the pattern of…
Quick hits for a Monday morning (however, the week did have a good start). Lava fountaining on March 27, 2010 at the Eyjafjallajokull-Fimmvörduháls eruption in Iceland. The Eyjafjallajokull-Fimmvörduháls eruption is still going strong with two active fissure - and a lot of tourists poking…
Actually, no the volcanoes aren't from space, but pictures of the volcanoes were taken from space. The NASA Earth Observatory has posted three more gems of volcanic activity taken by one of the fleet of earth imagers in orbit: A recent image of Chaiten taken by EO-1. Image courtesy of the NASA…
The Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls eruption on April 7, 2010. Just as we were speculating that the Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls eruption might be over, Icelandic officials may have ordered an evacuation for towns (icelandic) in the area (but information in english is scant). There have been…

Beautiful imagery of a gorgeous eruption. But this isn't just natural color remote sensing, is it? I hardly expect green along the margins of an active lava flow over ice and snow! Is there some thermal imagery superimposed?

Hi Erik , i just read the article you linked to people getting
uppity about the climatic effects of a possible eruption of Katla. Their suggestion is that if Katla were to erupt that the world would be plunged into a global winter is just lazy sensationalist journalism. A bit like the hysteria recently over the yellowstone earthquake storm.

Great image of the Eyjafjallajokull-Fimmvörduháls eruption.

By Lee Smyth (not verified) on 26 Mar 2010 #permalink

Lovely and informative photo.

Thanks NASA EO, for your thoughtful provision of the image!

The green along the margin of the lava flow is an artifact of the satellite sensor. The true-color image is the combination of a 30m/pixel RGB image with a 10m/pixel panchromatic image. Each color pixels covers the same area as 9 panchromatic pixels, so you'll occasionally get odd colors in high contrast areas.

(Sorry Erik, I don't have a URL - I'm an ordinary Iceland enthusiast with an interest in geology)

It seems to me that some commentators are confused about which Icelandic volcano is which and what can be expected of them. Gary Hufford, quoted in Science Fair, seems to be thinking not of Katla, but of the notorious Laki basalt fissure eruption of 1783, of which the effect on US weather was only one result. In Iceland, the pollution was catastrophic and much northern Europe was affected as well.

Let's hope the Fimmvorduhals eruption remains small and remarkable only for ending a first-rate walking route. An extended Laki-type event would have very widespread consequences and other nasties, of a more local nature, have occurred here in the past.

To look on the bright side of life, other Icelandic eruptions of the last 30 years, such as Krafla & Hekla, seem to have passed without major problem or hysteria. May Fimmforduhals do likewise.

By Averil Wootton (not verified) on 26 Mar 2010 #permalink

Thanks to R Simmon for the color explanation and to NASA's Earth Observatory for consistently providing such stunning photos of the world's most interesting places and processes.

Anne Johnson is a contributor to another useful and informative science blog, Highly Allochthononous. Worthwhile bookmarking for regular reading.

From (our fav volcano catalog source),
Katla Volcano Summary webpage:

'Although most historical eruptions have taken place from fissures inside the caldera, the Eldgjá fissure system, which extends about 60 km to the NE from the current ice margin towards GrÃmsvötn volcano, has been the source of major Holocene eruptions.'

From Volcanodiscovery dot com webpage on Katla:
'Katla has been the source of frequent subglacial basaltic explosive eruptions that have been among the largest tephra-producers in Iceland during historical time and has produced dacitic explosive eruptions during the Holocene.'

From the SI Katla volcano eruption history webpage:
(Katla eruptions, 1700s)

Start Date: 1755 Oct 17
Stop Date: 1756 Feb 13
Volcanic Explosivity Index: 5
Tephra Volume: 1.5 x 109 m3
Area of Activity: E-W fissure, caldera
Eruptive Characteristics:
Radial fissure eruption
Subglacial eruption
Explosive eruption

Start Date: 1721 May 11
Stop Date: 1721 Oct 15 ± 45 days
Volcanic Explosivity Index: 5
Tephra Volume: 1.2 x 109 m3
Eruptive Characteristics:
Subglacial eruption
Explosive eruption

What is not mentioned in the USA article is that these eruptions occur during the Little Ice Age (LIA) cooling event, predominantly felt in the Northern Hemisphere (and to a limited extent in the Southern Hemisphere), brought about by proposed mechanism melange of climate-altering effects from modulations in solar activity (coupled solar-terrestrial magnetic field anomalies), large natural climate cycle variations and natural- and human activity-induced aerosols.

Good points Passerby! Also, let us not forget that back in those days food supplying all our nutritious needs were not available year-round from the local supermarket. At certain times of the year, notably late winter through early spring, people were malnutritioned from a lack of vitamins and thus more susceptible to disease (which is also why the "Spanish Flu" killed so many in the aftermath of WWI). It is easily realised that a major volcanic eruption at the "wrong time of the year" would have severe repercussions on the ensuing growth season an later result in an increased mortality from malnutrition, mainly through vitamin deficencies.

This image is great! :)

Now, back to science. In the last 24 hours there was one deep earthquake recorded, it was a small event. But it had the depth of ~21km. For me that indicates that there is more magma flow coming up Eyjafjallajökull interior. There has also been minor movement of THEY GPS station to west, so it indicates that the Eyjafjallajökull volcano is starting to expand again. But next few days are going to make it clear if the expansion starts again or not.

There is a lot of wind on my geophone. The wind at this location is ~10m/sec.

Boris or Erik isn't Katla just part of the Mýrdalsjökull caldera and isn't that caldera over 10km wide? Also doesn't it cover an area 110 km2?

Passerby (and all) - I took recommend keeping up with Anne over at Highly Allochthonous ... and thats not even because she once had an office across from mine!

Randall - Katla does have a 10x14 km caldera ~ slightly larger than the caldera at Crater Lake in Oregon. It is definitely not a system to be trifled with if it does begin to show signs of life.

Erik, Thanks for the info...One more question though...Does that mean Mýrdalsjökull Caldera and Kata Caldera are one and the same? Here is the link I am looking at just add the www. to

First, thank you (takk fyrir) to everyone for your wonderful links and generous conversation; I have been glued to this site for news, speculation, and hypotheses on the Fimmvörðuháls eruption. I was in Iceland when the eruption began and took a trek on Sunday to see how close I could get (travelling as part of the ReykjavÃk Grapevine journalistic staff, where James now posts his column). My friends and I could only really view the expansive cloud of smoke from the site due to inclement weather, but it was thrilling to drive out there nonetheless. I was also quite amazed that we made it reasonably close to the site via Hvolsvöllur and beyond FljótshlÃð; we never encountered any authorities. Anyway, I'm away from Iceland for a couple of months and greatly appreciating all the posts on this site.

I do have one question (or even request -- James? Jón?). I'm interested in acoustic ecology, and am curious to know if anyone has taken quality sound recordings at the eruption site yet. I'd love to hear them and to know what's being recorded.

By angela rawlings (not verified) on 26 Mar 2010 #permalink

Thanks Jon but I am asking about Mýrdalsjökull Caldera, I know the glacier on top of Katla is called Mýrdalsjökull, I am wondering about the Mýrdalsjökull Caldera there is a difference.

"Monitoring of ice cauldrons

Mýrdalsjökull is the southernmost glacier in Iceland and is almost 600 km2. It covers the upper part of a large volcano. The mountain is about 30 km in diameter and the highest peaks reach 1500 m a.s.l. In the center of the ice cap is the Mýrdalsjökull caldera. It is oval in shape with the longest axis NW-SE and covers an area 110 km2. The highest points of the ice cap lie on the caldera rim and include Goðabunga, Háabunga, Austmannsbunga, Enta, Entukollar (see maps and pictures 1 and 2). Within the caldera the ice is hundreds of meters thick."
My question is whether Katla is just part of that larger caldera or is the Mýrdalsjökull caldera and Katla caldera one and the same.

@Randall, I think they are one and the same, but I am not sure. Give the experts here time to answer. I am sure we will find out soon.

Diane Hey I thought about you last week when I was panning for gold up in Coosa County. I didn't find much gold but did find a couple of nice Beryl was almost 3 pounds. I also found a few decent Cassiterite crystals.

@Randall Nix, Katla is just a other name for Mýrdalsjökull. It has a older history in it self. Many people in the area refer to it in a small patch of rock that stands out of the glacier as Katla. But that is just part of the caldera rim.

Today the eruption in Eyjafjallajökull is one week old, and shows no signs of stopping. If anything, it looks more powerful now then few hours ago.

Jon Thanks but I thought Katla was actually the name of a female dragon from a Swedish fairytale;) I understand what you are saying but I think Katla is part of the much bigger and older Mýrdalsjökull Caldera.

Boris, Erik what do you think?

@ Randall Nix -- I'm no expert, but in all the reading I've done over the past month we've been watching Eyjafjallajökull, I've picked up the following bits of information:

1. jökull is the Icelandic word for "glacier."
2. The volcano under Eyjafjallajökull (the glacier) is called simply Eyjafjalla.
3. I have never seen any of the experienced vulcanologists refer to an eruption of Mýrdalsjökull (they may sometimes refer to an eruption at or under Mýrdalsjökull); always they speak of the actual eruptions as being Katla's.

So, as I understand it, the glacier is Mýrdalsjökull and the volcano (and caldera) under it is Katla. (Why the names are not even similar is a question for the locals.)

chezjake Thanks but lets see what Boris or Erik say. I have seen several papers which talk about Katla being a big caldera inside an even bigger Mýrdalsjökull caldera.

Hey chezjake or anyone else up now look at

It looks like the second newer lava flow has almost reached the valley below. It also looks like another small lava flow maybe starting over the edge in the the right of the 2nd flow....Can anyone else see that small steam plume? It has been steadily growing for the past 30 min. I also noticed the water flowing at the bottom left of the screen has also increased since yesterday.

@Chezjake. A sociolinguist would tell you that humans invent words and name features that have a bearing or influence on their lives because we do have a need for precision in speech. The volcano presents certain hazards and a mention of that will bring forth the desired associations in the mind of the listener whereas if you describe, say, travel, a glacier presents challenges that are different from non-glaciated areas. Thus there is a need for a name for both volcano and glacier to the indigenous population, something that can be hard to understand for us non-indigenous people from afar who are not conversant with the challenges of living in different climes.

While on the subject, @Anna, Jón and others fluent in Icelandic, how many different words for snow do you have please? Prof Peter Trudgill of Norwich University rose to fame on the back of the dicovery that where English had but the one word for snow, Eskimos had 18 (this has been challenged, but he definitely had a point).

That's the Katla/Myrdalsjoekull drainage on the right side of the image, yes?

@Randall and everybody wondering about what names are used for which volcano, the Katla-Mýrdalsjökull mystery.

If I recall this correctly, "Katla" is the word that the Icelanders applied to the witch they thought was the volcano living under the glacier, which they called "Mýrdalsjökull". More recently, geologists have applied the latter name to the whole volcanic edifice and the caldera. So Katla and Mýrdalsjökull is very much the same thing, and there is only one caldera to this volcano.

It's a bit like the usage of "Mongibello" and "Etna" at our volcano here, Mongibello being the name that was used for the mountain in the past (it is based on "mons", which is Latin and means "mountain", and "jebel", which is Arab and means ... "mountain"!), but in the geological framework of Etna it is used only for the most recent (less than 15 thousand years old) part of the volcano. To make things complete, the locals continue to call it "'a muntagna", which means, after all ... mountain.

Do every now and then check the "www-dot-ruv-dot-com" web site. Currently it has a link to a really, really spectacular video of the second lava cascade (in the Hvannárgil canyon) on its title page.

Indeed, I spotted the inflation trend last night. I am onto my contacts in the team monitoring this and will get back once I have more information, but as of last night:
- THEY is showing some inflation
- the two new stations on the ridge are showing very little of anything, actually
- the station on Myrdalsjokull is moving WEST, which is as of yet unexplained

More as I get it. :)

Thank you James. You have no idea how much I envy you. You did put yourself in the right place at the right time though. Congratulations.

Still working on getting up to the fissure, though! I think it's going to happpen tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

Again, anything anyone wants a photo of specifically, just ask and I will try.

I guess what I would like to know is, what does it sound like, what does it feel like.

@Randall you lucky bum! I wish I could find something like that. Where we go, there isn't much in the way of anything but leaverites. There are quite a few volcanic bombs, though. They are very obvious as they are black. There is a lot of porphory of different sizes there, too. Some of the bedrock is porphory with rather large inclusions in it and you can find small rocks with small inclusions in them. If, and that is a big if, you are fortunate, you might find a piece of jasper. Lots of quartz, limestone, and plain ol' river rock. We are just waiting for the weather to cooperate so we can get down there. We are suppose to get some snow next week! Anyway, we are looking forward to having a lot of fun.

@James, where is that station in Mýrdalsjökull that is moving west ? I believe that inflation events have started in Mýrdalsjökull, but it is currently small and does not show properly up as of yet.

This eruption is going to be a long one. I am sure of that, there is a bit of flux of inflow of magma. But it remains rather stable besides that.

I'm not sure - I'm waiting to hear back on this amongst other things. I believe my source (who dropped me a very quick message) may mean the station at Godaland (GOLA), but I need to confirm this.

Bear in mind that Katla has been inflating very slowly but steadily for a number of years now, so some inflation would be expected - *more rapid* inflation would be the worrying thing.

Diane Check out the last Coosa County map on this page. My spots are not on here but lots of others are.

The map shows most of the old prospects and the different minerals that can be found there.

I also have some places in Tallapoosa County (map at bottom of this page) I go is outside of a little place called Jacksons Gap....All of the gold prospects on this map are maked with a "G".

Just add the www. to the address.

Randall, Diane! Do you cut gems as well? I used to do a lot of faceting (hobby) in years past. Gems, the gift of volcanoes to man...

Henrik I do cabochon work (hobby), star sapphires, beryl, turquois, lapis and just about any other stone that will take a good polish. If you go to this page and scroll down you can see a few sapphires (corundum)I found in Alabama.

Just add the www.

Very nice specimens, Randall! We have nothing as exciting in Sweden even if I live an hour by car from LÃ¥ngban.

There is a new web camera up and running, it is a lot closer to the eruption the other web cameras.

I found a video from this week showing Turrialba Volcano (Costa Rica) with a very strong activity. The activity of the volcano was later explained by some experts. Unfortunately I don´t speak spanish but I would love to understand what they explain.

By Thomas Wipf (not verified) on 27 Mar 2010 #permalink

Henrik You have sapphires there don't you? With all of those mountains I bet you have some great complex pegmatites or high grade metamorphic rocks close by.

Jon NICE view...thanks!

I posted this and a few more words on the other (24 March) thread, but since I find it important to underline a few things regarding the Eyjafjallajökull eruption and the speculations about a possible extension of the volcanic activity to nearby Katla, I re-post an excerpt here.

Regarding those among the bloggers here who are very convinced about the Katla connection - we must be careful about assuming that what we believe does correspond to nature. I think it is a *possibility* but nothing more that this current eruption might be followed by something more serious at Katla. I don't think it's very likely, though. There is a ridiculously great quantity of absurdly closely spaced volcanoes on this planet that are known to act strictly independently - they have different magma chemistries, some produce frequent powerful explosive eruptions and their close neighbors make small phreatic explosions every few hundred years. And then there is Etna - this is a volcano that teaches us a tremendous amount of things about volcano and magma dynamics and their endless complexities. At Etna we have four summit craters, the ditance between them being a few hundred meters, and you can't imagine how independently from each other they behave nearly all the time. Because one produces violent activity does not mean that its neighbor will do so as well. Very often this simply does not happen and we've always been wondering how this is possible. While we don't know the answer it definitely is not only possible, it is nearly the rule. Only very few times have we seen that two, three or even all four summit craters of Etna are ALL affected simultaneously by some massive magma supply (this happened once, in 1998-1999).

I remember in the 1970s there was a lot of talk about Katla being "overdue" (there's no such thing as "overdue" at a volcano because they don't obey to strict time frames as we are accustomed to), and when, after the 1973 Heimaey eruption, Katla remained silent, there was a hypothesis that Heimaey actually caused some pressure relief from Katla or diverted magma away from it, and therefore the next eruption might come much later. I don't know how plausible that might be, but one could also suspect something similar in this case, with as much reason as one might expect Katla to blow now because Eyjafjallajökull does.

Conclusions: yes, it may happen that Katla will follow the current eruption, because it has happened twice in the past. But we know far too little to say this is the rule, and that it will happen this time. As I said before, I'd expect to see some geophysical signals at Katla before she joins the party. I would not place any bet on seeing Katla erupt anytime soon. We're all blinded by that immense seismic swarm before this eruption, but there is NO proportional relationship between the intensity and duration of a seismic swarm and the magnitude of the ensuing eruption. Again, Etna has taught us that much over the years. This one here might very well go into history as a happily small, harmless, though very scenic eruption, much publicized due to the internet age (there wouldn't have been that much talk about it 20 years ago), and nothing more. Of all possible scenarios, this is the most likely one.

Henrik Oh man I envy you, you have some great places:)

Come è bella la nuova webcam! Meglio di quella del Kilauea!

Boris, in your opinion how much is the emission rate of the eruption right now?
It seems (but i can't be sure) that now the fissure is much more reduced in a single vent, or at least surely less vents than at start

By Dario Leone (not verified) on 27 Mar 2010 #permalink

@Dario, it's true, the activity seems to be concentrating more and more at one or two vents, which is very typical for this type of eruption. In Heimaey in 1973 at the start there was a spectacular fissure 1.5 km long, and after a few days it concentrated all at one vent, where the main cone grew up. In Hawaii, the current eruption of Kilauea started at a long fissure as well and then concentrated at one vent, which became Pu'u 'O'o.

Difficult to say what rate this eruption has - maybe some 20-30 cubic meters per second, or less. It's not a big eruption, and I am very skeptical about all these speculations that it might become something big and catastrophic. Certainly attention is always warranted and I am sure the Icelanders are prepared for the (remote) possibility that the eruption might intensify or some activity might also occur at Katla. I am not familiar with these Icelandic volcanoes, most of my experience is from Etna, which is different in many senses but also has a few things in common with this eruption, like the type of activity (Strombolian - Hawaiian, alkalic basalt). The last eruption of Etna in May 2008 began nearly the same way as this one, and it then continued, at a very low rate, for 417 days. I wish all volcano fans who have the possibility to see this eruption that it will last equally long without doing any harm.

Saluti dalla Sicilia!

Wow, just flaring due to the darkness setting in, or is it really going crazy? Sure looks like the latter!

The webcam view actually shows that it's considerably weaker this evening than during the past few days ... though there are alternating moments of higher and lower level activity. But there's one thing that is quite amazing, I already noted that yesterday: all those little planes and helicopters flying around it at nightfall, that seems like some dense air traffic there.

Icelandic newspapers do indeed report that there is concern about so many people trying to get close to the eruption - it's in a quite hostile terrain and it seems many people try to get there without being sufficiently equipped. That reminds me of Etna again: during the last eruption (2008-2009), the Alpine Rescue Service had to go out more than 60 times to pick up people in distress, very often young locals including guys in flip-flops and ladies in high-heeled shoes (ok that was during the summer, but still, on Etna it's cold at night in the summer). And, unfortunately, we also lost a friend on Etna in December 2008, who was actually well-equipped but still underestimated the extreme conditions that there are on a big volcanic mountain.

@Boris Behncke, actually. According to tremor plots the eruption is gaining strength at the moment. There where few earthquakes in the area that did signal that strength in the eruption was about to start.

There have been fluctuation in this eruption from the start. But it has overall been gaining strength as the time passes. This has already been going one week with no signs of stopping.

@Jón, first of all thank you for all the information you've shared with us over these days, and for the seismic graphs you set up, extremely precious and helpful for understanding that something important was indeed going on and something was going to happen.

Looking at the tremor graphs at
I find these look very stable, and visibly the eruption is very stable as well (even declining a bit in the past few hours - but interestingly the lower frequencies have become predominant at some stations), although in the webcam views the fountains are less high than yesterday. That's what I see from a distance of thousands of kilometers and it might be giving a false impression, you're certainly much closer to the place. I just try to behave as though this were Etna that I'm seeing in the images and the seismic activity - I am part of the team that does surveillance and monitoring of Etna and the other Sicilian volcanoes. So, before the eruption started I was pretty convinced that there would be an eruption, although I had no means of saying what kind of eruption, and when exactly it would happen. Now here we have an eruption that looks like a photocopy of many eruptions at Etna - we've even had such lava cascades (hraunfoss) at the Southeast Crater on Etna in 2006!

So, if the webcam images show an activity that appears weaker than yesterday, this doesn't mean it will get stronger again tomorrow. It's difficult to say. Maybe this will be like the Kröflueldar (the sequence of rifting-related eruptive episodes at Krafla 1975-1984) with short eruptions going off and on for a long time. It's definitely different from the last Eyjafjallajökull eruption (1821-1823), which occurred in the caldera and produced silica-rich magma, and also for this reason I would be reluctant to say that because last time Katla woke up it will also do this time. Unless there are signs of unrest at Katla it will probably not erupt, but I say "probably" rather than "not at all". Anything is possible at active volcanoes. But some things are more likely than others, and for the moment the available information makes me think, this is it. This is the eruption, and like this it will go as long as it is fed by magma, and then it will be over. For the moment. But maybe tomorrow everything will look different. You Jón, you are much closer to the sources, both the volcano and those who are studying it, and I don't want to interfere with their work. I just wish this will be the happy little eruption it seems to be so far, and not develop into something worse, although I know many volcano freaks would just love to see exactly this happen (like I did when I was younger and not yet living on an active volcano!).

Keep up the excellent work Jón, and we'll be continuing to discuss this fascinating and beautiful eruption, I am sure.

Boris Look at:
You really don't think it has picked up in intensity over the past few hours?

@Boris Behncke
Last summer i saw Stromboli for the first time (and it is bad for a geologyst).
I saw Etna only about 10 years ago, but only looking it from Catania. I need soon to visit the craters.
But i live INSIDE Campi Flegrei so...

Krafla 1984 eruption had a much more emission rate than this? Or the lava field was the result of a longer duration of that eruption?

By Dario Leone (not verified) on 27 Mar 2010 #permalink

@Randall - consider it's now full night there, and that's another of my Etna (and Stromboli) experiences that at night the activity appears much stronger because you see even the smallest incandescent fragments, which are not visible during daylight.
But in this moment, seen via the new webcam it does indeed seem quite intense - maybe it seemed weaker from the other webcam because the cone has grown so high, and it obstructs a direct view on the fountains. There's quite a lot of material thrown way over the crest of the cone to the left. I also saw a news report on mbl-dot-is just a few minutes ago, where Magnus T. Gudmundsson, one of the foremost volcanologists in Iceland, is cited as saying "it's stable, and if anything, the eruption has grown stronger today". So maybe I have gotten a wrong impression from watching the "old" webcam where the activity appears considerably lower than yesterday (but after all, the new webcam wasn't there yesterday so there is no way we can make a comparison).

@Randall, chezjake and Henrik:

Jökull is indeed the Icelandic word for "glacier."

Katla is the feminine form of ketill. Kettle (or cauldron) in English.

"The volcano under Eyjafjallajökull (the glacier) is called simply Eyjafjalla"

No, not exactly. There's a region in S-Iceland called Eyjafjöll (the nominative form) which translates to "Island Mountains" or "Isle Mountains" in English. My guess is that this mountain range, or what you call it, draws its name from the fact that they rise very steeply from the flat ground and thus can be said to resemble islands jutting up from the sea, similarly to the Westman Islands, but I don't really know.

The glacier which is not too far inland simply draws its name from these mountains: Eyjafjallajökull or the Isle Mountains Glacier.

The volcano UNDER the glacier has no name as far as I know. I don't think people were in the habit of putting a name to features in the landscape that aren't visible to the eye :)

I don't know why the volcano under Mýrdalsjökull has a name (Katla). I suppose it's because it's been very active over the centuries. Also, Katla has kind of visible and recognizable form even though it's normally snow-covered.

"So, as I understand it, the glacier is Mýrdalsjökull and the volcano (and caldera) under it is Katla. (Why the names are not even similar is a question for the locals.)".

Well, Mýrdalur draws its name from a nearby valley called Mýrdalur. Mýr(i) is realated to the English word 'mire' and dalur to 'dale'. So Mýrdalur translates to Bog Valley or Marsh Valley or something like that. And Katla means cauldron which is very appropriate.

Boris I know what you mean about the night making it appear more intense but I watched it just before dark and it really seemed to pick up then....Does it seem to have a more explosive nature to it than before?

@Randall - not much more explosive (that would mean, higher degrees of fragmentation and more ash), but more voluminous. And with that level of activity and so much material thrown onto the cone, that cone will continue to grow rapidly.

Make sure to visit the Flickr web site, there are great numbers of hauntingly beautiful photos of this eruption coming up:

(exchange "eldgos" with "iceland volcano", or "Eyjafjallajökull", or "hraunfoss" or whatever comes into your mind that might lead to photos of this eruption)

@Boris Behncke, I use a bit different tremor plot. It is this one here,

According to a report few days ago, there have been lava lakes forming in the crater that has been forming. That in it self apparently reduces the eruption light show, or the amount of material thrown up in the air. But for now it appears that lava lakes have broken there way out.

Looking at the web cameras that I have had for the past few days, the eruption is now more powerful today then yesterday. It is clear, as there is more light in the darkness now then yesterday.

According to news reports, the lave has started to flow south of the crater and in the direction and over the hike path in that direction.


Eruptions ebb and flow, that is what they all do. You cannot take what a specific eruption does in the context of hours or days, and try to predict what it will do in the future. Especially for a volcanic system that we have limited knowledge about. One cannot warn the world of impending doom because a lava fountain has grown from 150 meters to 300 meters in 2 hours.

It is true that this kind of eruption does show sometimes significant fluctuations, we've seen that often enough on Etna. What we see here is actually very normal for a basaltic eruption. So far. Gordys is right, there is no way to predict or forecast how the system will behave in the long term, and there's no use speculating unless we do actually get data on which we can build our speculations, like geophysical (seismic, deformation) and geochemical (gas and fluid chemistry) signals.

I do actually think we can see the southward flow in the new webcam, it's going to the left. I wonder which path this flow has taken - so far the cone has been breached to the west and north. Is there a breach to the south now? No way of telling from the webcam views.

Thanks for the explanation! Kind of delightful in its own way.

What an amazing text-book eruption this has been. Do they ever come quite like this? What a little beauty it has been.

By bruce stout (not verified) on 27 Mar 2010 #permalink

Gordys Ahhhhhh where do you get "One cannot warn the world of impending doom because a lava fountain has grown from 150 meters to 300 meters in 2 hours."

I never said any of that, I don't think I have predicted anything please concern yourself with the things that you say and quit putting words in my mouth.


From you past comments since you have been visiting here, and from your website.

@Boris Behncke, there is a new steam signal where the southward lava flow is going at the moment. The steam did just appear few min. ago.

I am also afraid of new vents or fissures opening up in coming days. There have been earthquaeks in the area, and in most cases there is also a increase in the eruption when that happens. Indicating more flow to the the current eruption fissure. I fear that at one time the flow increase is going to be more then the output of that crater and then things are going start opening up nearby.

There have been earthquakes up to ML2.7 registering at ~100 meters depth SSW and SSE of Básar since the eruption started, and I believe that is a warning sign of more fissures or vents opening up soon.

Also, thanks for nice words! I started the Hekla seismometer in June 2009 to monitor this area. But mostly Hekla volcano.

@ 22,23,26 The late Astrid Lindgren borrowed the name "Katla" from the Icelandic volcano for her fairy tale "The Brothers Lionheart".

In regard to words for snow and ice, I think one branch of the Sami (Lapps) in Sweden has the record, with an entire book of such terms and their explanations. For instance, if you are in need of liquid water, you need to know if that hole in the lake ice is surrounded by thick or thin/brittle ice, therefore you need two different words. Since the lapps travel between several climate/vegetaion zones while herding reindeer, they probably need a greater vocabulary for nature than the inuit/eskimos.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 27 Mar 2010 #permalink

@Jón, that looks spectacular indeed. I see they (those who put up the webcam) also play around with the zoom-wide angle and now give us a more panoramic perspective. Amazing what technology we have today - nothing like this when Heimaey erupted back in 1973 and I began to be interested in volcanoes!

What is true is that this is a very interesting eruption and I think many of us are very curious what is going to become of this. Maybe what you say is true, some basaltic fissure eruptions are quite complex and go through different phases with new vents opening even months after their start. It is not very common, but there are a few examples - Lanzarote 1730-1736, Tolbachik 1975-1976, Kilauea's current Pu'u 'O'o eruption, Krafla 1975-1984, and obviously, Laki in 1783-1784 ... although all of these events except Krafla started off much more vigorously than this one here.

We will watch and see ...

@Gordys, I did discuss a lot with Randall during the Yellowstone seismic swarm, and what I understood is that he was indeed concerned but also very curious and willing to learn and understand. What we see of him these days is extremely laid-back in comparison to the Yellowstone affair :-) I guess Randall very much agrees. During these days of Icelandic tremors and eruption, there have been a few new characters popping up on this blog who started playing around with Armageddon scenarios, but not Randall, I must say to be fair. So let's stay all calm and enjoy this eruption unless it really becomes a source of trouble (chances of which I continue to consider relatively remote, except maybe the risk of having too many gawkers not suitably equipped for the environment of the eruption site ...).

Thank you Boris, taken to heart.

I am sorry Randall.

@Boris, I have a question about Etna and the topography there. Is the Voraine still in existance and has the diaframa disappeared? I saw the satillite picture and they were calling the large crater the Bocca Nuova and did not mention the Voraine. I also want to know it it is still steaming as it was about a week or so ago. Since the web cams have changed so much I don't get to see what is going on like I used to. I really loved watching the strombolian eruptions years ago and then the 2006 one (was that in November of that year?) which I think my DH and I sat and watched for six hours on Etna Treking's web came and right at that time they went off line. I was in touch with you then and you explained what the deal was. Now they are back, but not in the same places and I don't see as much, if I am able to see anything.

I really appreciate your contributions here because you explain things so well. Thank you.

@Jon, dittos on what Boris has said. Your geophones are an important contribution and because you are close to what is happening, you give us a good idea of what to watch for. Thank you for that.

If nothing else, this eruption has shown that there is a large, international community with an interest in vulcanology that transcends the purely ogrish. Will institutions "open up" and adapt to the Internet Age after this and make data readily available in real time or will they continue to guard their professional secrets? No matter what they choose, people will continue to speculate on matters that touch them or they find of interest. In such a case, people will grab whatever information they can find, be it accurate or not. Surely it is in the interest of science that such speculation is informed and based on accurate information and kept in bounds by readily available knowledge?

Henrik The institutions just haven't all caught up to the new reality of the net, but many of them are putting lots of very good info online. Think of the miracle of us all....from different points on the globe.....watching a volcano in Iceland in real time...commenting on it as it happens and getting expert opinions about what's happening....50 years ago that would have been considered almost the words of Paul Simon...."These are the days of miracles and wonders"


I think our curiosity knows no bounds. :)

There is a small possibility that the next really massive eruption could take place at Lazufre --- although even if that system does erupt it could be 300 years from now.

Occasionally I google "Lazufre" in hopes of finding out the current rate of inflation at that area. It was in 2008 inflating at 3.5cm a year. The reason I hypothesize that this might end up being a massive eruption is that this area of the world has periodically had large caldera eruptions. The inflation there is not centered on any particular volcano - which means to me that if this area has an eruption it could be caldera forming rather than just centered on one existent volcano.

In any case today's periodic search for Lazufre shows that there is an 18 month post-doc opening for someone to study what could be a possible "incipient caldera" volcano as speculated in Nature 10 years ago.…

INSAR data can reveal whether the inflation rate is still increasing. While the rate of inflation has increased at Lazufre over the past decade the most current inflation rate that I can find is from 2008. I don't have the data to determine what has been happening the last two years. I could draw mental curves extrapolating on an increasing inflation rate and such thinking could be alarmist.

So, I suppose that Lazufre is a good example of a system in which information in the hands of the public could lead to a sensationalized story ... or the withholding of information could lead to public guessing and conspiracy theories.

I am not suggesting that there is any withholding of data in the case of Lazufre - but rather that the far-away nature of this system means that it doesn't have a high priority - and it appears that INSAR data has to be processed in order to give reliable results.

Scientists might be giving Lazufre the attention that it deserves, but my curiosity is high because a massive eruption could be disruptive to areas of the Southern Hemisphere - and with some advance notice - those in the Northern hemisphere would be able to crank up food production to meet shortages in the Southern Hemisphere.

Lazufre isn't the most pressing issue in the world - but since this a volcano site - it is where it should be shared - and maybe someone out there can land an interesting job.

By Thomas Donlon (not verified) on 27 Mar 2010 #permalink

The sun is coming up and it appears the volume, if not the intensity is increasing:
That web cam view is awesome right now. I wish the other cam was working.

@Randall, you mean the one at Ãórólfsfelli? On my computer it's working perfectly well, though the view is far less spectacular in daylight than the close-up one.

Just for the pleasure of it, take a look at Etna as it looks this morning - no eruption, but a splendid day in spring, the most beautiful season in Sicily

Boris It seems to be slowing down from what it was over an hour ago. I see the other web cam is working again...I guess that is my cue to go get some is 3:20am here. It was really blasting earlier but it does seem to be more smoke than fire at the moment.

That does look like a really nice day in Sicily:)

I know you've commented on it before Boris, but looking at the Etna webcam, I cannot help but wonder what other astonishing feats of ignorance the people building and buying houses on the slopes of such a very active volcano are capable of... I guess the beautiful vistas of Catania and the Straits of Messina are an irresistible lure. Human nature being what it is, I am sure that if something did happen, a lot of people would blame you for not giving "adequate warning in advance". Just look at those fools at Mammoth who are more worried about the drop in value of their property than the very real risk of being gassed, steamed, roasted, crushed and then obliterated along with their vaunted property!

But I agree, it IS beautiful!

The view from the Fimmvörðuháls camera is very impressive. Last night in fading light, I noticed the feature in the foreground to the right. What is it? It looks like an old outcropping, surrounded by ash-covered snow, with cracks running through it from the edge of the picture all the way to the walkpath(?) near the centre of the view.

For convenience -…

Over the last hours there has been notable drop in harmonic tremors from the eruption. I don't think that this signals a end to the eruption. But it might signal a new phase in this eruption cycle that has just started in Eyjafjallajökull.

BREAKING NEWS: I saw a pyroclastic flow at the mila-webcam and made a screenschot (how can I publish a screenshot here?). The cloud was running down the hill (the south side) extremely fast. How could that happen? Is there a new fissure or just something like a lava stream getting in contact with too much snow? I´m not sure but I´m afraid it could have harmed people because it came suddenly and on the side where tourists are watching the eruption.

By Thpmas Wipf (not verified) on 28 Mar 2010 #permalink

Big plume coming up from what i guess is NE of the fissure, the path of the original lava flow. Probably just new lava touching snow/ice. Pretty impressive.

Maybe there was just a lot of new lava falling down in that narrow canyon. But for me it really looks like there is a new fissure with new lava falling in that canyon. Definetely dark smoke now and very fast steam clouds rising up. New fissure! If not - I have no explanation how such a huge cloud could appear suddenly!

By Thomas Wipf (not verified) on 28 Mar 2010 #permalink

No new fissure. Sorry! Everything is calm now there. But definetely there was a cloud running down the hill very fast around the area of the first lava fall.

By Thomas Wipf (not verified) on 28 Mar 2010 #permalink

Henrik--you measure the worst-case scenario against the likelihood of it happening. I won't even second-guess the people who built houses in Royal Gardens--it's possible that Kilauea wouldn't erupt in that area for one-hundred years, and the economic life and value of the house would be zero by then, anyhow. But, most of the houses were cheap in the first place, so the damage, while heart-rending, is not economically crippling. Hualalai, if it erupts like in ~1800, will do billions of dollars in damage and destroy the Kona economy--but it might not happen for 500 years!

(If I won the lottery, I'd buy property and put a house on Mauna Loa's SWRZ in Hawaiian Ocean View Estates...but my house would be a trailer...pointing downhill...!)

I'm going to Iceland on wednesday - up to the eruption site by jeep/snowmobile on thursday afternoon/night if weather permits. Can't continue being a volcanologist that never saw an eruption live!!!

Anybody else want go? I'm travelling alone for all 4 days and would love someone to go along with. Also thinking about going to the blue lagoon one day, perhaps northern-light watching another and out eating good food.

Regards Heidi Ritterbusch

Heidi I wish I lived there or I would go in a heart beat...By the way Northern Lights should really be nice the next few days. says "C-flares are continuing at a rate of one every 3-to-6 hours, and NOAA forecasters estimate a 20% chance of even stronger M-flares"

Also it looks like the Koryaksky volcano may be about to do something:

Damon! That's just it, people COUNT on it not happening during their life-times and then, when it does, or like the good people of Mammoth they get hit because their property loses in value, complain bitterly and try and find someone to fix the blame on other than their own, poor judgement. But it is in human nature - when given the choice between a short-term advantage that comes with a long-term disadvantage and a short-term disadvantage coupled to a long-term advantage, people will invariably go for the short-term advantage...

@Henrik #81, Mammoth isn't doing much right now and the quakes, for the time being, are slowing down. The big problem with Mammoth is the CO2 kill zones and seepage. In the winter, Mammoth is a major ski area and a lot of people go there. Yeah, it is a dangerous place and the people are more likely to break a leg skiing than the mountain erupting. That whole caldera is active and a beautiful place to visit. Lots of stuff to see there with all the domes and the Inyo craters. I did hike to the first crater and it is not a very big one. You can walk right to the edge and look into it. It has water in it. Ididn't get to the others. One of the main dangers in the caldera is Hot Creek. The water is hot and sometimes it seems just like nice bath water. So people have gone swimming in it and they don't know that at times very hot water will well into the creek and several people have been badly burned and some have been killed doing that. There are signs warning about it and now I think they have closed access to that part of the creek off. I would have to look into that, but it seems to me I saw something about that.

When you talk about Mammoth, just remember they rebuilt SF! There is a much greater chance right now of there being a strong quake there than Mammoth going off. And then there is the so called Palmdale bulge along the San Andreas in S CA. I haven't heard much on that lately, but there was a lot of talk about it 20-30 years ago. CA is fault city if you ask me. As I am sure you know, we get thousands of quakes every year and about 1/3 of them are from the geothermal plant near Clear Lake.

Well, enough on that. I saw what looked like a pyroclastic flow on the cam at Eyjaf and from what I could tell, it was steam and ash flowing down the side of the mound. It probably was some hot blocks falling with ash in the mix. It was neat to see it.

I tried to post this before with the complete links but it didn't work.

Heidi I wish I lived there or I would go in a heart beat...By the way Northern Lights should really be nice the next few days. says "C-flares are continuing at a rate of one every 3-to-6 hours, and NOAA forecasters estimate a 20% chance of even stronger M-flares"

Also it looks like the Koryaksky volcano may be about to do something:

@Thomas Wipf (#85, 87, 88) - what you saw may very well have been a sort of pyroclastic flow, not due to the opening of new vents but due to explosive interaction of lava with snow and ice. We've seen such pyroclastic flows a number of times on Etna and Klyuchevskoy, and probably they happened at Llaima in Chile in 2008-2009, at Pavlof in Alaska in 1975, and at Hekla in 2000 and possibly in 1980 and 1947.
I will try to find the image of the event in the webcam archives (there are archives at… ...), but if you want to send the image you saved to my e-mail: behncke-"at"-ct-dot-ingv-it, thank you very much.

Henrik, the realestate economy is so bad right now that everybody in the country has lost value in their homes and it was not a natural disaster that did it. It was banks making bad loans to people who couldn't afford them and people buying homes to live in for a couple of years and selling them for a profit. Things were crazy for a while and we all knew it was going to come to a screeching halt eventually. It did and basically, the US is broke and the banks are a large part of the problem as well as speculators. So it can also be a human caused event as well as a natural event that will bring disaster.

Where I live, the main danger is fire. We know that it is a matter of "when" not "if" so every year we have a day devoted to fire safety and having a defencable space around our homes. And people here are cleaning up. That will help, but we have a bush call manzanita that is one of the hardest woods you can get and it burns VERY hot. So that is another issue. But we are doing the best we can and they have started to create fire breaks around the town in various areas. We are doing someting.

I do know what you mean, though. New Orleans is another example. They know there will be another hurricane and another and another. But they choose to live there. Nothing anyone can do about it.

@Heidi, I plan to be in Iceland next week too, probably with my kids (passport issue to be worked out!). Leaving perhaps on Tuesday night for 3-4 day trip. Email me if you want to hook up! tmfdmike at gmail dot com

@ randall Here's a link to the Koryaksky webcam

Re people living in dangerous areas:

When i was young, I went hunting around the US for a "safe" place to live. I discovered that there is no safe place. Tornados, hurricanes, floods, snow and landslide, drought, volcanos, earthquakes-- nowhere is immune. (I was looking for a place safe from radiation, but discovered there's nowhere to run). In CA, we get the effects of sandstorms and pollution in China.

So, we huddle down in our spot, and some of us prepare. (We're ready for earthquakes and floods.)

parclair Thanks for the link....hey there is nothing wrong with being can't stop them but you can mitigate the blow. We have hurricanes here, every year we buy our supplies and keep a close eye on the weather. It is much like living near a volcano...the 1-3's don't worry me...the 4 and 5's are pretty scary. I live about 1 mile off the bay and about 50ft above sea level....The people who live on the barrier islands live on the slopes of a metaphorical volcano....The fate of their property is to become ocean again...much like the fate of those homes on the slopes a volcano, one day they will be returned to the volcano. So enjoy it while it lasts;) That's why I am about to go for a nice 3 mile walk around the old historic district of Pensacola with a couple of lady friends;) Carpe diem my friend!

@Heidi, I'm looking to go Wednesday / Thursday and would like to do all of the same things as you but have held off because I'd rather go with someone else. If your still looking then email me datmanchris at Gmail dot com.

By Datmanchris (not verified) on 28 Mar 2010 #permalink

It appears that a vent of some sort (fumerole?) has opened on the top of camera-facing side of the scoria heap. My imagination?

And does it look like an explosive vent has erupted on the camera-facing side lower down to the right. (Since this view is new, I'm not sure they've always been there.)

that new fimmvörduhalsi webcam is a stunner. It's like having a front row seat.

Very glad for you Heidi that you are going!! If I could I'd drop everything and go with you! I'll just have to content myself with a couple of days on Etna over the Whitsun holidays.

By bruce stout (not verified) on 28 Mar 2010 #permalink

Bruce I agree, it's fabulous. I've things to do, but can't leave the sundown view.

I leave for a walk and it cranks back up....Bruce you are right it does appear to be getting stronger.
What a view! Boris you might want to look at this.

It is awesome! I have seen some of the lava rock falling on the left side. It is quite intense. Cool.

What is up with the light (fire?) on the left handside of the webcam Eyjafjallajökull frá Ãórólfsfelli?

Danckel, some of the lava is being thrown to the left side and what you are seeing are hot lava blocks rolling down the side of the mound. I have seen this kind of activity on Etna.

Right now it looks like there is some heavy duty ash coming out of it, too.

Again folks, don't let yourselves get fooled by the falling darkness! It always seems stronger, much much stronger at night, even when it isn't.

Today there was a interesting earthquake at ML1.6 at 24.7km depth. There also have been a lot of earthquake with the depth of 10km or greater. This is quite interesting, as this signals that more magma is pushing up trough the Eyjafjallajökuls plumbing system and it might indicate that a new episode of expansion is about to start in it.

It looks like, in my opinion at least that this eruption has just started and we are just seeing the warming up part of it.

@Boris, it was much stronger before it got dark than it is right now. As I am writing this, it may be changing in strengh, but it has seemed to be calming down for the last ten or so minutes.

I did see one high blast that sent quite a bit of block fall on the left side of the mound before it go too dark to see it. That was really neat to see.

I do know that darkness makes light look brighter than it is and this has been so cool to watch. Just awesome.

Henrik. Your thoughts on #115- same as mine? Thanks for the info Jon.

By Peter Cobbold (not verified) on 28 Mar 2010 #permalink

We shall see Peter but, yes. If there is a break in the deflation trend, perhaps even an increase, then it's a very interesting piece of information.

Re #114, 116. I have been watching it for much of the day, on and off. There have been times where the activity has increased, but also where the only thing visible from both webcams for lengthy-ish periods of time has been smoke - albeit at one point there was so much of it blowing due south, that the area between the vent and the Fimmvörðuháls camera was shrouded in semi-darkness whilst everything else was in brilliant sunshine. (Around midday, Iceland time.)

Looking at Sigurdsson's graph, it looks like seismicity peaked a few days ago and is on a linear downward trend. But I can't read the language so I may be misreading it.

The latest from an Icelandic news website: "âIt is the smallest eruption that I have seen in my lifetime but also by far the coolest,â commented Benedikt Bragason at the tour operator Arcanum. He is offering ski-doo tours across Mýrdalsjökull glacier to the source of the eruption on Fimmvörduháls."

A ski tour to an eruption would be cool indeed!!


reposting this as the first didn't seem to take (sorry if it shows up twice ...)

what Boris is saying could be reworded thusly ''' how many stars do you see in the daytime , versus how may stars can you see at nightime ??? (assuming you don't live in the core of big city, of course ...)'

exactly the same principle, faint objects show up much better on a dark background .....

By robert somervile (not verified) on 28 Mar 2010 #permalink

An eruption of this size could stop tomorrow or continue for a decade. It might be tapering off or the activity could be variable. This might be "throat clearing" for a larger eruption or it might never get any larger. Anyone predicting what this eruption will be doing in the future is simply guessing but I suppose it just isn't human nature to want to simply watch and see what happens. We seem to think we have to predict things.

There is some interesting development going on in the last few hours. The harmonic tremors have been dropping fast. But at the same time there has been a increase in earthquakes in Eyjafjallajökull. This is quite unusual I guess that it means that the eruption is going to change phases now.

This started around 02:00 UTC. But the drop in harmonic tremors started a bit earlier, around 22:00 UTC. There are several hours to go before this peaks, but I guess that this is going to develop fast and is going to mean trouble for the area.

robert somervile I understand what you and he are saying...but at the time I posted earlier it really was more intense.

George I don't know if you were talking to me or not but I am just commenting on it shouldn't be interpreted as any kind of prediction. To me this is a geological event and I really enjoy anything geological in nature...this beats any football game. I just wish they would get the web cam back up

Most of you guys won't really understand this but I do find there is a spiritual component to watching this thing...I guess it is something primeval, maybe it's because volcanoes are both agents of creation and destruction that fascinates me.

I am afraid some of you guys think I am wanting or looking for something apocalyptic to happen at Katla and I am not. I am going with Boris and Erik on this thing, it may get bigger but even if Katla did go it's worst it still wouldn't be a game changer....I will reserve my anxiety for something a lot bigger than Katla. I am simply a fascinated Cro-Magnon observer watching a natural event through the miracle of the internet;)

I understand Randall. With his interest in beautifully crystallised mineral specimens, the best of which usually are found in pockets of fossilised magma chambers or ditto high-temperature hydrothermal systems called pegmatites, you might call Randall an archeo-vulcanologist. ;)

Can anyone tell if it's still producing fire fountains? The weather is too bad to tell on webcam. I'm due to head up there this evening so I sure hope so...

Yeah, I keep forgetting about the rewind feature! Thanks. Hopefully I'll get some good shots tonight. :)

I can see now some whitish/ light grey things falling in the field of view of the Frimmvörduhálsi webcam. Is it ash or snow? It's hard to decide...

Looking at the webcam now, I think it's safe to say it's still going...

Tremor looks like it might be increasing again, too.

some impressive fountaining at the moment...

By bruce stout (not verified) on 29 Mar 2010 #permalink

Yeah, the eruption certainly seems to have gotten back to some shape after a low moment last night. I just thought about another eruption that went through a series of different phases from different vents, that was Hekla in 1970. Who knows what this volcano has still in store, yesterday the eruption seemed almost doomed but it ain't over till it's over, right?

I do understand Randall (#125) perfectly well, the spiritual dimension is loud and clear to me. And then it's one thing to see an erupting volcano on television or "live" via a streaming webcam, which is already beautiful and sometimes quite exciting. Another thing still is to be there, though it does have some collateral effects which I knew about when first seeing Etna erupt in 1989 but hadn't really considered. Until then when I had dreamt about visiting an erupting volcano it had always been the volcano and me, and reality was that there were bunches of folks and not all as respectful as I, and it was cold especially at night, and the thing made a tremendously bad smell. Right, and you had to do a lot of physical excercise to get there. But I eventually got to terms with those environmental factors and then the spiritual dimension crashed in really powerfully, especially during those years on Etna when all hell was loose, between 1995 and 2001.

Some of my colleagues working here on Etna are actually leaving for Iceland to make gas measurements. So they say. But it is true that we haven't seen anything really good here on Etna since two years, which is an unusually long interval. So for the moment all of us cling to the Fimmvörðuháls webcams and dream of our next eruption here at Etna, hoping it will be a harmless, beautiful one as the current one over there in distant Iceland.


yeah i know what you mean about spiritual , i switched my major from electrical engineering to geophysics in 1980, we heard the blast from mt. St Helens here in the lower mainland, B.C. , Canada ( i did ..) , i was just reading recently that the noise was the shattered cryptodome hitting spirit lake .. ( we lived on a small acreage, i thought somebody was blasting stumps (woke me up ..).. i keep wondering if i will see another Cascade volcano go in my lifetime .. in the meantime i continue to visit Baker, Garibaldi, Meager , etc to pay homage ...

By robert somerville (not verified) on 29 Mar 2010 #permalink

Throughout the Iceland episode, earthquakes have not been confined to Eyjafjöllajökull alone. It started with our host's "Rocking on the Reykjanes Ridge" and every day, almost, there have been quakes all along the mid-Atlantic rift on Iceland. I do not intend to be alarmist, but I've had a disturbing thought: says "Between 1975 and 1984, the displacements caused by rifting totalled about 7 m." If the last great rift eruption was Laki in 1783-4, to go by the USGS figures, total "rifting" since then would amount to something of the order of 200+m. Be that as it may, the tension must be enormous by now if there has been no relief. Now, isn't it logical that if the crust will start to rip, it would do so from below where it is more plastic than on top? Isn't it also logical that since the crust is at it's thinnest under Eyjafjöllajökul (~20km as opposed to ~40 under Vatnajökull), this would be the first place the crust breaks? If so, couldn't this be the mechanism by which an eruption at Eyjafjöll seems to be followed by one at Katla: the fracture deep down below widens and opens up the Katla system? Not every time, but often enough for them to seem co-temporal and correlated?

For those who have followed the Iceland event for a while, please note the localised activity close to Herðubreið (Mývatn), the Tjörnes Fracture Zone, Bárðarbunga (Vatnajökull), Ãórisjökull (Langjökull) and the Selfoss - Hveragerði area (Southern Iceland).

Boris I do tend to get more philosophical at 3am;) Hey have you seen this:
Undersea volcano threatens southern Italy: Report

Agence France-PresseMarch 29, 2010 7:02 AM

ROME - Europe's largest undersea volcano could disintegrate and unleash a tsunami that would engulf southern Italy "at any time", a prominent vulcanologist warned in an interview published Monday.

The Marsili volcano, which is bursting with magma, has "fragile walls" that could collapse, Enzo Boschi told the leading daily Corriere della Sera.

"It could even happen tomorrow," said Boschi, president of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV).

"Our latest research shows that the volcano is not structurally solid, its walls are fragile, the magma chamber is of sizeable dimensions," he said. "All that tells us that the volcano is active and could begin erupting at any time."

The event would result in "a strong tsunami that could strike the coasts of Campania, Calabria and Sicily," Boschi said.

The undersea Marsili, 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) tall and located some 150 kilometres (90 miles) southwest of Naples, has not erupted since the start of recorded history.

It is 70 kilometres long and 30 kilometres wide, and its crater is some 450 metres below the surface of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

"A rupture of the walls would let loose millions of cubic metres of material capable of generating a very powerful wave," Boschi said.

"While the indications that have been collected are precise, it is impossible to make predictions. The risk is real but hard to evaluate."

Apparently the fire fountains *are* getting a little lower. It's a slow decrease, though.

As for the sudden decrease/increase in volcanic tremor, even those right on top of the situation don't yet know why that happens, but one theory is that it's leaking gases from elsewhere, which would also account for the lessening fire fountaining.

Our blog host's post the other day, wherein he mentioned prior research on bimodal magma eruptions in a major rift zone, N Island, New Zealand, started me thinking about the odd situation where a convergent Ridge might have subducting like activity.

Reading Boris' Etna News webpages that mention suspect alteration in magmetic source, from hotspot to subduction zone, observed in unusual shift to explosive activity in 2002-03, started to ring bells.

See G. R. Foulger publications, including:
Iceland is cool: An origin for the Iceland volcanic province in the remelting of subducted Iapetus slabs at normal mantle temperatures. Foulger and Anderson (2004).

A source for Icelandic magmas in remelted Iapetus crust. Foulger (2005).

Coincidence of the SISZ activity with EVZ activity.

The 1912 Iceland earthquake rupture: Growth and development of a nascent transform system. BJARNASON et al (1993). Bull. Seismological Soc. America 83(2):416-435.

The reworked source of basalt fissure injection on the SISZ east-end roughly coincided with eruption of Katla ~6 years later.

The subduction-like melting of the Iapetus (Caledonian) Suture fragments trapped within the upper mantle, providing thermal conditions and gases for explosive eruptions observed at Katla.

Of particular interest is the petrology of the relict crust sources: dense, mineral-rich and highly conductive.

@Randall (#137) ... ahhhhhh. There you got my Big Boss (Enzo Boschi) speaking, so I can't really say he's telling bogus. But let's specify a few things here.

In a general sense, each single active (or dormant) volcano on this planet is potentially highly dangerous. Practially all volcanoes bear in their geological history the more or less clearly recognizable traces of past cataclysms. What has happened once in the life of a volcano has a chance of happening again unless the volcano is cut off from supply and falls extinct. By the way, I consider a volcano extinct only when you don't see it anymore.

So yes, there is a good chance that Marsili seamount in the Tyrrhenian Sea has unstable flanks that might collapse one day, and since these flanks are entirely below the sea level, that would most certainly generate tsunamis. But as I said before, such worst-case scenarios are the least probable of all. Before this happens each single one of us will have had a million chances of slipping in the bathtub and smashing her or his head, or falling from a ladder, or cutting our arm off with a chainsaw while gardening. Or of dying or getting badly injured in a car crash or in whatever sort of accident, there's so much s**t waiting for us behind every corner that we go around, and this worries me a million times more than a volcano-induced armageddon.

But yes, it IS indeed possible, and this is why there must be as much research as possible, and as much influence as possible must be taken on decision makers to prepare for the remote possibility that something really bad will happen. And certainly what is behind my Big Boss's words is most of all an appeal to the public and authorities to provide funding for further research. That is best done speaking of the possible risks, not of what is scientifically interesting. And, I repeat, though extremely remote, the risk of tsunamigenic collapse does exist, not only at Marsili.

@Passerby (#139) - fun that you made my old (still existing) web site come up. When I visit it these days, it's like taking a nostalgic trip back on memory lane. Those were exciting days. I am now one of the main administrators of the new web site of the INGV Catania (, and gradually I am transferring some of the information and images from the old site onto this one. Obviously only the material that is not obsolete (the lava flow map in the first link is terribly obsolete)! It's a lot of work and first we've got to complete the Italian version and then it's gonna be the English version. Luckily Etna is giving us a quiet interval to get this done!

@ Dori Sig Thank you for the great film! I think I'm finally oriented to the eruption position. (That is, I can now look at the eruption and know the direction of view.) Invaluable.

Serendipity that you brought up the Etna fireworks of the last major activity period, as it reminded me of the odd behavioral phase shift toward the end.

Very easy to see now whey you might find the present eruption to be a bit low-key in comparison to your experiences with Etna. What a volcano!

It's not such a long stretch of logic to see the analogy of the bolide relict fragments caught and subducted along the Alpide Belt that may be the source of unusual, clearly visible, E-W 'lines' of earthquake activity in Asia at present.

See: an insightful diagram, Fig 1 in the freely-available pdf, below. It shows exactly what I had in mind while nattering about the SISZ interaction with Eyjaf and Hekla, with the loaded transform fault transferring shear stress-strain to Eyjaf, with the possibility of Eyjaf grinding against Katla and triggering unrest within the same relative activity time frame (3 for 3 in the last 1100 years and 1 or 2 potential coupled actions before then, although exact dates of these eruptions are unclear).

Recent volatile evolution in the magmatic system of Hekla volcano. S. Moune et al. (2007) Earth and Planetary Science Letters 255:373â389.

At 18:06 UTC there was a ML2.6 earthquake in Eyjafjallajökull, it depth was 2.2km according to automatic results. This follows increased in harmonic tremor that started few hours ago.

Jón! The Iceland Met site shows three eq at 18.06, all in that area ~5.5 km SSW Básar - 2.6 @ 2.2km, 1.5 @ 2.1km and 2.0 @ 1.7km all within 50 seconds. What kind of quakes were they, do you know?

@Henrik, The other earthquakes are duplicates of the main earthquake. But that sometimes happens in the SIL system, not sure why. The ML1.5 however might be a real earthquake, just badly located (low quality). There was also a ML2.4, ML1.8 and ML1.9 since I did notice about the earthquake that seems to have started this.

It is possibility that the magma is pushing it self up where the earthquakes are happening at the moment. I am not surprised if that where to be the case.

According to reviewed data, the earthquake had the size of ML3.2 at the depth of 6.7km.

Let's hope our little volcano in Iceland will get some more magma from underneath, it's such a nice show and it seems it is bringing tourists, so how much better can an eruption be?

Etna is quite a different volcano, though. The long-lived and extremely intense summit eruptions that we saw between 1995 and 2001 were fed by a system that is perpetually open. So usually when there is a repose period (like now) and then new magma rises through the central conduits, we don't get a lot of seismic and other geophysical warning signs. It just appears at the surface at some given time and that's then the onset of a new eruptive period, like in July 2006.

The 2001 and 2002-2003 Etna eruptions were flank eruptions, so they had more in common with the current eruption at Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörðuháls, in that they were preceded by strong seismic activity, but they were more complex in terms of the number of vents and magma compositions, and much more explosive. But what they did, they drained much of the superficial feeder system of Etna, plus we had a gigantic flank slip movement, and as a result, the behavior of the volcano changed. It's clearly less active than before 2001.

One word @Henrik (#136), it is well understood that rifting is not a continuous process but it's episodic. That means, the 7 m of rift opening in 1975-1984 were not representative of a 9-year-period, but of the full 230 year intervall that had passed since the previous rifting episode. You dig? So in 9 years the amount of rifting was recovered which had not occurred in 230 years previously. That's the rate that we have to consider, not 7 m in 9 years. So it will definitely NOT happen that Iceland will dramatically rip apart in a "2012" manner. We're seeing a powerful rifting episode in the Afar area of Eritrea-Ethiopia since 2005, which seems to be more signficant in terms of displacement - also there this episode must recover the movement that apparently has not happened for a determined (though unknown) time. But we're still talking on a scale of meters, not hundreds of meters.

Finally, @Randall (#144). Prevention, in Italy? you kidding? No concept can be more foreign to this people than prevention (along with maintenance and coordination). Sad to say but true, in terms of mitigation of natural disasters (which are often exacerbated by man-made factors) we've got a LOOOOOOONG way to go here. Says someone living in an area at very high seismic risk (without much being done about it) and also at risk from - mostly effusive - volcanism.

Boris The Italian attitude must be very exasperating for a German used to more order.

Also look at:
Is that just an optical illusion due to the time of day or is it really cranking back up again?

Boris, that is not what I intended to say! I should never have included a figure as that gives a false impression, not only of the actual slippage, but also that I was under the impression that Iceland would dramatically rip apart à la 2012. Technically Iceland is, on a geologic timescale, but not dramatically. But don't blame me, blame the USGS for sensationalism as their site does give the impression that a 7m rift in a ten-year period is the norm. ;)

I'll rephrase: If, as is logical to assume, the bottom of the crust tears more easily than the more solidified top, then we could have a mechanism that might account for the observed phenomenon that when Eyjafjöllajökul erupts, it seems that Katla will follow. How? The first tear allows fresh magma access to Eyjafjöll's plumbing. After Eyjafjöll has erupted and while the tear is in the process of healing and thus is weakened, it widens which allows basaltic magma into Katla's magma chamber, et vòila! Nous avons l'éruption de Katla.

Several small rifts on the underside of Iceland's crust would also explain why there is interesting activity in several more places along the plate boundaries at the same time. The current activity, minus Eyjafjöll, may be the norm, I know not, but the impression given is that it is not.