Hawai`i in Iceland: The style of the Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls eruption

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 Hawaiian-style volcanism quite well, so I thought it could be a good time to talk about what exactly Hawaiian-style volcanism is. There is a sequence of events that leads up to and follows the start of an Hawaiian-style eruption - although this sequence can stop at any point along the way - but it is the archetypal style of eruption for situations when a basaltic dike reaches the surface and erupts.

The "curtain of fire" that kicked off the eruption at Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls on March 21, 2010.

Hawaiian-style volcanism happens in 5 steps:

  1. Inflation/Tumescence - This is where magma rises to a shallow level underneath the rift or summit where the eruption will occur. We see this in the inflation of the land surface - which could start months or years (?) before an eruption, but the most prominent inflation is in the hours/days before an eruption.
  2. Dense Fumes - There was no one close enough to sample gases for the E-F eruption, but most eruptions at Hawai`i have a period of intense degassing as the magma sits just underneath the surface. Carbon dioxide, water vapor, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide are the most common gases being released. This stage could last days to weeks before an eruption.
  3. Fragmental (tephra) eruptions - This is your "curtain of fire". The magma begins to erupt in fountains of basaltic lava that is charged to erupt explosively by the amount of gases dissolved in the magma. We saw this early on at Eyjafjallajökull with the impressive linear "curtain of fire" (see above) that marked the beginning of the eruption. This stage produces "spatter ramparts" of agglutinated (stuck together) ejected basalt lava and lots of ribbon and twisted bombs, along with achneliths ("spray rocks").
  4. Central vent - This stage sees the fissure vent coalescing into a single spatter or scoria cone, like we have seen with both the first and second fissure in Iceland (see below). This central vent will produce occasional fire fountaining, but definitely abundant scoria, bombs, Pele's hair/tears, reticulite and other products of explosive basaltic volcanism.
  5. Lava flows/lakes - The last stage for Hawaiian-style eruptions is lava flows and lakes. You can get some flows during the previous two stages, but this is now when lava flows are the dominant form of eruption. This means flows on the surface or lava tube networks transporting lava away from the vent area, slowly building a shield cone. This can also be in the form of both/either pahoehoe or a`a lavas and could last months to decades after the start of the eruption.
  6. i-c659c96e5f5da8cb6cee353185dd3d64-Eyjaf9-thumb-400x305-44309.tif
    Webcam capture of the central vent phase of the Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls eruption. Image from the evening of April 7, 2010.

    As you can see, we're been treated to quite the textbook case for many of these stages of Hawaiian-style volcanism during the Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls eruption. Most of what I have seen and read about this event suggest this is about as straight-forward of an eruption as you could have expected (so far) - and the abundant webcams, photos and description of the eruption have allowed us to get about as good a view on this Icelandic eruption as we have ever had. The question is now: how long will this eruption last? My guess (and I emphasize "guess") is we could be seeing eruptions at the Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls area in the months-to-years scale as that seems to fit the pattern for many of these Hawaiian-style rifts that form in Iceland. All you webcam watchers may need to quit your day jobs if you keep on watching this eruption all night!

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Good News!
i'm retired, and my knitting i can do at the computer.

aren't You jealous?

Yes Mots I am, very much so.

I guess the best thing is to get a job that lets you watch it all day! ;)

Thanks for the article Erik, it's much appreciated.

By R. de Haan (not verified) on 08 Apr 2010 #permalink

Thanks for the interesting information. We will see, how this goes on. From the point of the tourism industry it should last at least until the end of the summer, I would guess :-)

I don't know if I got this link from comments here, or from another website, but I thought I'd share it anyway, since I found it to be a super useful resource for someone not schooled in these things (I'm in law, but I heart science):


By Anonsters (not verified) on 08 Apr 2010 #permalink

There has been expansion in Eyjafjallajökull over the last 24 hours. I am not sure if that is going to continue. But it is save to say that inflow of magma is almost as high as the current outflow of magma.

I wonder how much area the lava can flow over at this time.

After all the financial distress Iceland has had in the past couple of years, E-F seems like a nice gesture from mother nature, attacting tourists who can spend money on guides, snowmobiles, hotels, etc, during what I would expect is normally the slow season. And all that without causing a lot of damage and distress. I'm pretty close to pulling out my check book too.

@James. Good article. I found this on a yahoo search.
Thank you for everything you do.


It looks like the spam filter has finally caught me. Put the www. in front of grapevine and I am hoping that the link works.

At 01:45 UTC there was a low period tremor in Goðabunga (assumed). That earthquake does not appear on IMO automatic plots. But it does show up on my earthquake plot on the Hekla station.

Although Dr Behncke has warned against reading too much into seismic data, there have been some quakes the location of which are very interesting such as the M3.6 at 0.1km SW Básar and the M3.7 close to Goðabunga a few days ago or this one:
Friday 09.04.2010 06:36:27 63.649 -19.336 0.1 km 2.3 99.0 4.4 km WNW of Goðabunga


No worries. It's been interesting covering the eruption in a way that isn't either so complex you need a PhD to understand it, or so simple that it is plain wrong (hopefully!). Of course the Grapevine editors change things occasionally but I've quite enjoyed giving people a little slice of volcanology!

James! Could you give us a link to some of your articles! It'd be very interesting to read them! Thanks!

@hendrik: Here is the latest article, all older are linked on the bottom: grapevine.is/Home/ReadArticle/Eruption-Report-6-Second-beautiful-lava-fall-forms

Grapevine's James Ashwort has an interesting way of reporting about the E-F volcano. I expecially liked the expression he coined: «our pet volcano».

James, those are some very good reads, well done and thanks for the link!

There have been some great photos, but this one takes the cake.


"Photographer Albert Jakobsson knows how to be in the right place at the right time. He was on hand at the latest eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjajokull volcano over the weekend just as Earth was being slammed with the strongest geomagnetic storm in three years. The result: lava meets heavenly bliss as a ribbon of green aurora ripples above Eyjafjajokull's fire fountains"

By Brian in Bellingham (not verified) on 09 Apr 2010 #permalink

@Jón: Is that what we actually see on your helicorders at Hekla because of the storm in the area or because of upcoming magma?

Anybody else notice that 3 of the last 4 earthquakes have been at a depth of 0.1 km's with 99.0% quality? Is that significant?

Thanks Gordys! 0.024 cubic kilometres places it at VEI 3, but with only 0.000000015 cu km per second it's rather puny. If this eruption continues for a year at the observed average rate, it'll have erupted close to ½ cu km, something the bigger stratovolcanoes accomplish in around an hour to a day. Why isn't time figured into the VEI as classifying the current eruption as a VEI 3 is rather misleading? Or is it just my ignorance?

My air quality monitoring friends at UMBC (Univ Maryland-Baltimore County) have compiled satellite SO2 sensor images of Iceland for March and April (to date).
Contact: Simon Carn.

To permit tracking of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from the ongoing eruption at Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, UMBC is now producing subsets of SO2 measurements made over Iceland by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA's Aura satellite. OMI collects data at around 1:30-2:00 pm local time every day.

Note that since OMI is an ultraviolet (UV) sensor, data collected at high latitudes in the winter can be noisy. Data quality will improve over time as we progress into the northern hemisphere spring and summer. SO2 emissions at low altitudes are also unlikely to be detected in the presence of thick cloud cover, which is common in Iceland.

The direct link to the OMI SO2 images for Iceland is:

Although Simon mentions 'signal noise' after filtering, much of the observed SO2 can also be attributed to high latitude tropo chemical haze. You also see this same chemical haze over eastern South America.

@Chris, If you compare the time on my chart with IMO times you will see the earthquakes that appeared on my sensor. There is something odd going on. There have been a string of low frequency earthquake happens.

At the same time there has been a drop in the harmonic tremors because of the eruption in Eyjafjallajökull.

The earthquakes look to be heading toward Godabunga and Katla. Am I the only one who notices this?

Inflation- a guesstimate. GPS data suggest north-south expansion (eg between THEY and GOLA) of about 50cm, maybe a bit more. Satellite interference image showed length affected around 20km.(roughly THEY to SOHO). Depth inflated? During the EQ swarm we saw EQs spread 'evenly' from 1 to 10km deep, with the average starting at 8km. If inflation extends that deep then the intumescent volume would be 10^8 cubic metres
(= 0.1 cubic km.)
@Henrik #28 So at 0.024 cukm expelled so far, I predict it has erupted about one quarter of its magme supply. So the spectacle runs out late May.

By Peter Cobbold (not verified) on 09 Apr 2010 #permalink

With the weather being bad there, can anyone confirm that the eruption is still going on as usual or has there been any indication of a change in output? Thanks.

By Dylan Ray (not verified) on 09 Apr 2010 #permalink

@34 Dylan

Looks like the eruption is still going strong.

The webcam is working again, the weather has apparently improved a bit:


It's great to have the camera view back again!

By R. de Haan (not verified) on 09 Apr 2010 #permalink

@StarBP, You are not alone in noticed this. But it is unclear at the moment what is going on.

@Chris, These post are interesting. But I have been recording low period tremors from Goðabunga since I did setup my Hekla sensor. But the earthquake there appear clearly on my sensor for some reason.

Very nice very very close view into the new cone. Have a look on that snowmobil track. Some are crazy to go so close...But the video is nice, especially in HD and despite of bad weather.

By Thomas Wipf (not verified) on 10 Apr 2010 #permalink

@Summer, Henrik, Chris:

The latest monthly print issue of Grapevine was published yesterday, with one of my articles in it (basically a combination of all of the ones so far). Also a 'top 5 eruptions' thing they wanted me to do (ah, the press, gotta love 'em...).

You can get the PDF off their site (near the top left corner) if you're interested. Mine is on page 10. :)

Thanks for the support though, guys. A lot of the information I've used has been from here - you folks are so quick to pick up on stuff!

Professor Cobbold, glad to have you back! Have you managed to get broadband access yet? If you have, one clear evening in Iceland will see a manifold return on the investment. It is so very beautiful! As for your prediction, how did you arrive at it?

James, congratulations! You have a very wise editor who recognises class when he sees it. I'm impressed with the way you've managed to convey the essential scientific information with no hint of dumbing it down for the benefit of the reader. At the same time, I think you manage to covey the wonder and excitement I have felt in your artcles!

Camera 1 is off line now!

By R. de Haan (not verified) on 10 Apr 2010 #permalink

While the pressure does not seem to subside, the first vent has closed, and the second might soon too, the question is where to could the path of least resistance lead the magma...?

With tremors to the east too
and so much is unknown, the 'sour lump' speculation of Haraldur Sigurdsson
is worth noting.

Inferior Eyjaf might just be pulling the trigger for the cannon of Katla...

There has been a big drop in harmonic tremors in Eyjafjallajökull. That indicates that the second vents might be closing at this moment. But it is hard to say this moment due to no visibility.

Unfortunately, that link (http://vulkan.blog.is/blog/vulkan/entry/1040146/ ) doesn't translate well in English:

«You may need little to give her place of soda... it is possible that the golden go off and drink prices.»

Could somebody give us a short summary of that speculation? It would be much appreciated. Tx.

The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory has posted a graphic showing the locations of the Jan-Feb earthquake swarm and the most recent April earthquake swarm.

Dawn is revealing the eruption still very much underway... and definite lava considerably further down the side of the mountain than I've seen before, a definite bright spot in the middle of a band of cliff well-seen on the Ãórólfsfelli and Vodaphone cams... when the clouds part!

Outstanding new HD-Video released showing the Eruption at Fimmvörduhals: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sUMlr3G0CE

Youtube Oscar for Best Camera and Best Music! And many nice shots showing details we have never seen before....

By Thomas Wipf (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

I see part of my #42 went missing (I used the "arrow pointing right"-key and it seems to have cut away at that point. Note to self: Don't!). What I went on to say was that the satellite data suggested an inflation of 6 cm and that would result in a mere 14.5 days at the observed rate but also that in spite of the continuous eruption, the mountain still remains as inflated.

As it is, it looks as if I, rudely, didn't read Professor Cobbold's post...

I posted this in another thread but since I am not sure where everyone is at these days I am re-posting it here.....Looks like some EQ's at Bardarbunga volcano...anyone heard or know anything about it?

Nothing more than googling it, Randall. Like most Icelandic volcanoes, it seems to be "interesting" with a very large eruption (VEI 6) in 1477 and several areas where eruptions have occurred.

Henrik I noticed: "It also produced the largest known lava flow during the past 10,000 years on earth (more than 21 cubic kilometers of volume)." There have been 9 EQ's in the past 24 hrs.

Just had the advantage of a gap in the clouds and it looks as if during the period of bad weather, a cinder cone has grown to the E (and slightly N) of the old cone and the new vent that produced such spectacular images less than a week ago. The height of this feature seems to be almost as high as the old cone. (Valahnjúk camera)

OK... so maybe the propogation is skipping Katla altogether and going straight to the much larger Bardarbunga? The Smithsonian's Global Volcanism Program says Bardarbunga and Laki are part of the same system.

StarBP I sure hope it isn't propagating anywhere. It would seem like Bardarbunga is too far away from Eyjafjallajokull or Katla to really be connected to them.

All 3 stations reporting inflation. Look at #10 for links.

Neither do I... I don't know where they are

I think they are for Eyjafjallajokull/Katla, though

Henrik here are a few pics of me looking for corundum in North Carolina...You can see the hole I have dug following the dunite and altered serpentine.
Chunky Gal North Carolina

Here are a few of the area where I find corundum in Tallapoosa County Alabama. I look for the margins of ultramafic rock.....that is where the corundum can be found.
nixcomp.com/randallspictures 032.jpg
nixcomp.com/randallspictures 033.jpg

The eruption is still going on (21.24 GMT Valahnjúk camera).

Randall, it'd be great if you ever were in these parts. As far as I know, no one has ever prospected for corundum in these parts although had there been large deposits or good quality stuff, I'm sure they'd been found.

@Henrik. No broadband set up yet-will have to be satellite as UK governmant last week failed to pass legislation obliging British Telecom to supply bb to rural customers.So eruption images have passed me by. By the time I get bb the internet will probably be rationed because of CO2 cost. e.g. one web search consumes 0.1kWh of electrical energy..-all those servers.
Inflation volume was pure guesswork as we have no information on depth apart from EQs. But my calculation was in same ballpark as on March 25th (0.4 cukm), which assumed nothing about inflation. Curious- can a volcano be that predictable.

By Peter Cobbold (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Another quake at Bárdarbunga volcano. Maybe I am looking at the site wrong but it seems like all of the quakes are pretty much at one spot....the North side of the volcano. Could it be ice quakes from the glacier?

@Peter Cobbold

Peter, if broad band access is not available at your location, why don't you go for a broadband 2 way satellite connection and eventually share connection and the costs with one or more of your neighbors by WIFI? Connection cost should not be much more expensive compared to a bb connection and the ground to ground wifi
antennas are cheap as well.

The only inconvenience is sporadic signal blockage by dense CB clouds producing heavy rain or snow! Otherwise from my own experience excellent connections!

By R. de Haan (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

@Randall Nix, The Bárðarbungua volcano is just making earthquakes as it usually does. Currently there are no indicators that it is going to erupt any time soon. But if it does, I am sure that it is going to be with a little or no warning at all. However, few weeks ago there was a dike intrusion in the Bárðarbungavolcano going on. It made few mag 4.5 earthquakes and it nearly set off GrÃmsjall volcano. That did start with no warning at all. The dike did not reach the surface at all.

I am impressed about how long time the aftershocks have been going on at the border between Mexico and California. There are still plenty of aftershocks and occasionally some larger then magnitude 4. It is probably a normal behavior for this area after a large earthquake, but I am facinated that they can go on and on in that 120 km long area of the fault line. See this website:

Shouldn´t they be more spreaded along the fault? I can understand that large Eq:s create a lot of aftershocks, but don´t they usually tend to move along the fault to nearby regions that still haven´t been relieved of the tension?

Please excuse all the questions, I am a amateur when it comes to this field of science!

I also interested about the Cerro Prieto Volcanic field that is close to the majority of the EQ:s. This is a long shot, but meiby the large EQ have disturbed a possible magmatic system under the volcano. Cerro Prieto is a geothermal field so it seems possible that there might be a magma body down there somewhere.
I found a forum where they actually are discussing a link between the swarm and the volcano


Is think that this is something worth keeping a eye on at least!

By Mattias Larsson (not verified) on 11 Apr 2010 #permalink

Peter, I am absolutely astounded by the non-availability of bb in your area! Even though I'm fortunate enough to have access to a 100Mbit connection, I am regularly approached by vendors trying to sell me their many and varied solutions such as via the cellphone mast net, the power grid, the tv-socket, the regular telephone line. My brother-in-law even made a decent living for three years by travelling to farms and outlying areas without regular broadband access selling a mediocre solution. Is there really no one interested in earning money in the UK, thus depriving you of one nature's finest displays?

Henrik, I am astounded that people think bb internet access is some sort of birthright. You can obtain it anywhere on the planet if you are willing to buy the circuit that provides it.

Sorry, I am a network engineer. I get tired of hearing that stuff from people. Yeah, I would also like easy freeway access to my home but I don't have it.

George, being a network engineer, what solution would you recommend Peter then?

PS. The only "right" we have by virtue of being born is to die. The rest is granted reciprocally by mutual consent.

At 07:34 there was a earthquake at size of ML3.1 in Eyjafjallajökull according to automatic results from IMO. The depth of this event was 1.3km. This earthquake happened at the area where the ML3.6 earthquake was few days ago.

@Jón: Thats right. But otherwise the seismic activity is almost gone. So the big question is: What is happening down there? Is there no more lava coming up and the eruption will stop soon (if it hasn't already stopped and nobody noticed) or is something else going on and we soon see a subglacial eruption?

I looked on the vodafone camera just a few minutes ago (first time in days that you could see something) and there are no signs of the eruption visible. Is it over?

A last one for the moment: It seems that the eruption is over. This is already in the media - with a warning that the activity might start again without warning.

In the wide angle Vodafone webcam it looks like there is another area of steaming quite far (a few kilometers?) from the eruption site, it's literally right in the middle of the wide angle view near the top of a less snow-covered hill.

Thanks for the links Bruce! BTW, can you tell me what the "time offset" parameter in the Omori law means? That was a nice photo Bruce, I saw some similar photos yesterday when I was searching for info on the EQ swarms.

I also found info, including pictures, about pressurized water coming up from the ground in some areas near the large California-Mexico earthquake. You can find a report here:

I found the photos and info on the pressurized from the forum link I posted in #71.

By Mattias Larsson (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

@Scott (#82). I see the same thing - a thin whisp of smoke/steam/cloud/snow with the source of origin outside view to the right (west). It could be cloud, snow whipped up by strong winds or something else. Shame the Vodafone camera is pointed too far east so we can't see this area!

I no longer see a plume from the original eruption site.

hmm.. the eruption stopping at virtually the same time as a shallow 3.1M quake is kind of suspicious.

By bruce stout (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

@bruce: The media here says that the eruption might have stopped already yesterday by noon. But because of bad weather nobody noticed it.

It was still going late last night, Iceland time (21.24 GMT Valahnjúk camera, see #66). Unless, of course someone had dumped a few tires as they do in Arizona! ;)

Right now (13.29 GMT), I *really* would like to have a good look at the Eyjafjöllajökull glacier. Could Vodafone please move the lower of the two cameras west. Please!

@Bruce: That was my thought also.

This is a photo from today: img.visir.is/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=XZ&Date=20100412&Category=FRETTIR01&ArtNo=940870494
You can still see red glowing lava. But this is something that was visible for the first crater as well, which is now calm.

There still seems to be a fair bit of steam rising from the ridge on this webcam - http://eldgos.mila.is/eyjafjallajokull-fra-valahnjuk/ and a recent report by poster RW in the latest blog post states:

"I was at Fimmvörðuháls only about 14 hours ago. The driver who I visited with said that the eruption was definitely smaller than it had been a week ago. Still, it was an incredible sight. There was constant lava fountaining at one crater, occasional outbursts at two others, and a lava flow which was hardly visible when I got there but brightened greatly during the night."

With the latest quakes it's certainly an interesting situation to follow (especially since I'm hoping to visit the eruption site at the end of the week!)

Henrik #89, my DH knew someone who did that in Nevada. That guy roled one of those big tires from a large grader up a cinder cone and it set it on fire. It did get the authorities all in an uproar for a short period of time. They knew who did it, but they didn't do anything to him.

Anyway it looks like the eruption may be almost over, OR it is erupting though lava tubes. Check above on Erik's description of Hawaiian style eruptions. So it may be doing that. No one has had a chance to check.

@ Brian, you should check with one of the posters who has local knowledge, but I think this might be the site of the first lava fall. It looks like it is still getting fed from the first fissure which would imply Diane was right with the lava tubes. or maybe it's just latent heat.

By bruce stout (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

@henrik.Broadband along 8km of decrepit rural welsh wires is not possible. We had planned a wireless line of sight system but politicians seemd to be getting on top of the problem.Promises, promises...
So satellite now in favour as noone wants to commit to expensive wireless scheme now.

By Peter Cobbold (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink