Iceland Issues Red Alert As Volcanic Eruption Begins

Icelandic authorities raised their alert level to red today as a subglacial eruption of the Bardarbunga volcano began in earnest, after a week of violent earthquakes shook the region.

The eruption is so far contained beneath the glacier, the Daily Mail reports. According to scientists, magma is moving deep underneath the Dyngjujokull icecap, but has yet to break through the surface. Iceland’s Meteorological Office announced that the Bardarbunga volcano began erupting at 10:30 this morning (August 23), local time.

Martin Hensch, a volcano seismologist with the office, said that the area had experienced earthquakes throughout the day, the strongest rating as a 5.0 on the Richter scale. Thousands of earthquakes have plagued the region over the course of the last week, mostly centered several miles below the surface. As The Inquisitr reported yesterday, a 4.7 magnitude quake detected in the volcano’s caldera raised fears that an eruption was imminent.

According to ABC news, the airspace directly over the volcano was closed and the aviation alert was raised to its highest level. Authorities fear that the eruption will not only cause widespread flooding due to glacial melt, but also affect air traffic in Europe, as the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokul volcano did. If the eruption pierces the glacier, it could possibly cause a volcanic plume as great as the 2010 event, which grounded planes for nearly a week.

The volcano is “completely unpredictable at the moment,” Hensch said. According to Iceland’s Civil Protection Department, scientists flew over the volcano on Saturday but were unable to detect any signs of the eruption breaking through.

Vulcanologist Melissa Pfeffer, also with the Icelandic Met Office, said it was unclear if or when the eruption may emerge from under the ice. As The Huffington Post reports, the glacier is between 100-400 meters (330 to 1,300 feet) thick, and it could take as long as a day for the volcano to melt through. Any potential ash cloud from the eruption would be defined by the thickness of the ice:

“The thicker the ice, the more water there is, the more explosive it will be and the more ash-rich the eruption will be.”

Iceland evacuated the area to the north of the volcano earlier this week. Scientists are monitoring a hydrological station downstream from Bardarbunga for any signs of flooding caused by Iceland’s latest volcanic eruption.

[Image via BBC]