Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano was rocked by the strongest earthquake yet, measuring 4.7 on the Richter scale, as the country braces itself for a possible eruption.
Hundreds of earthquakes have been detected beneath the volcano, but the most powerful came just before midnight on Thursday, Euronews reports. While an eruption is not imminent, the Icelandic Meteorological Office says that seismic activity is continuing at a high rate. Following the 4.7 magnitude quake, however, activity in the volcano’s caldera has decreased somewhat. The tremors are thought to be caused by magma movement below the volcano.
— USGS (@USGS) August 22, 2014
As the Daily KOS notes, volcanic quakes are generally not as strong as their tectonic brethren. The powerful earthquake was part of a larger pattern of strong events, centered at the rim of the volcano’s caldera. A long side channel of magma that has been steadily growing to the northeast of the volcano has also stopped its advance, and instead appears to be enlarging at its end. “If an eruption happens,” said Kristin Jonsdottir, of the Iceland Earthquake Monitoring Office, “we need to assume that it will happen quickly with magma migrating towards the surface. It could also enter a state of equilibrium and nothing happen.”
While seismologists do not believe that the strong quake is a sign of an imminent volcanic eruption, Iceland’s authorities are leaving little to chance. A full ten percent of the country has been closed off, although an exception has been made for farmers who need to enter the region to retrieve livestock. As The Inquisitr previously reported, the area directly to the north of the volcano was evacuated in the last week due to the possibility of an eruption. Mostly uninhabited, it is popular with hikers. Icelandic authorities fear that an eruption of the subglacial volcano could lead to uncontrolled flooding in the region.
Employees of Iceland’s Meteorological Office engaged in a reconnaissance flight over the volcano, along with members of the Icelandic Coast Guard. Using radar and thermal cameras to search for tourists still in the restricted zone, they were able to get a closer look at the volcano, despite obscuring clouds.
While the seismic activity under the Bardarbunga volcano has raised fears of an eruption, it has also put airlines on alert, lest a repeat of a 2010 eruption in Iceland snarl air traffic over Europe. Aviation authorities say that they are confident the crisis will not be repeated. Due to the volcanic activity, Iceland has nevertheless raised its air alert level to orange, the second-highest possible.
[Image via ValueWalk]