Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Volcanology News

Continuing Bardarbunga Eruption Fuels Scientific Research

How are scientists taking advantage of Iceland’s Bardarbunga eruption, which shows no signs of slowing down?

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Lava from Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano, which began erupting on 29 August, now covers 60 square kilometers of the Holuhraun lava field. Scientists have arrived in droves to study the ongoing fissure eruptions.

Morten Riishuus, a senior researcher in volcanology from the University of Iceland’s Nordic Volcanological Research Center, has periodically visited the eruption site for the past month. “It is an incredible privilege and experience to be able to witness the activities at the eruption site,” he told Eos. “We have never before been able to document such an event in such detail,” he added.

The dike intrusion—which serves as a magma conduit for the eruption—is the main focus for scientists studying the volcano, Riishuus explained. Because the Holuhraun lava field is so flat, the fissure eruption provides a good analogue for volcanic activity in Iceland during the Neogene (23 million to 2 million years ago).

The main hazard scientists and the general Icelandic population face is toxic gases spewing from the eruption. At the eruption site, Riishuus and his colleagues must wear face masks, and if concentrations of gases such as sulfur dioxide become high enough, they will be forced to evacuate.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) updates pollution readings daily and has advised that people who feel discomfort should stay indoors.

Riishuus said that that a name has already been suggested for the eruption: Nornahraun, which means “the witch’s lava.” The name was suggested because the eruption has produced “Pele’s hair” (Nornahár in Icelandic), which is “melt droplets drawn into long glassy strands by the gas jet during degasing at the vent,” Riishuus said.

As of 31 October, the eruption shows no signs of slowing or stopping. The future of Bardarbunga is uncertain, although IMO has predicted different scenarios: The eruption could gradually slow and then stop, or the caldera could collapse, inducing a stronger eruption, flash floods from melted glaciers, and ash plumes.

For background on the eruption, see “Field dispatch: Up close and personal with a volcanic eruption” (Eos, 95(39), 352, doi:10.1002/2014EO390005) and http://ow.ly/Dq8Km.

Visit http://bit.ly/IcelandMetOffice2014 to keep up to date with the Bardarbunga eruption via IMO.

—JoAnna Wendel, Staff Writer

© 2014. American Geophysical Union. All rights reserved.