Iceland’s Holuhraun Lava Flow Largest Seen In Over 200 Years

The Holuhran lava flow in Iceland has been more active over the last four months than it has in over 200 years. The lava flow is occurring in the interior highlands, where the area is mostly inhabitable. Despite a lack of immediate human danger, the constant eruption has caused hundreds of earthquakes, and is spewing large amounts of sulfur dioxide along with the constant flow of lave.

The last eruption of a similar magnitude was in the 1780s, where the long term and widespread activity killed off nearly a quarter of Iceland’s population. The current eruption is estimated to be larger. Although not expected to be as large as the volcanic eruptions that were thought to have killed off the dinosaurs, scientists are watching the volcano closely.

Since it began erupting in August of 2014, the lava field has spread to a reach of 32 square miles, and is larger than the island of Manhattan, according to the Weather Channel. The flow has been moving non stop since it started, but signs of a slow down have been observed. Scientists believe the constant flow and the current slow down are great signs that may foretell that the volcano will not catastrophically erupt. The land above the empty magma chamber has slowed its sinking descent from 31 inches per day to only 10 inches per day. Heat that has transferred to the surface has also become cooler than it was at the beginning.

John Stevenson, a volcanologist from the University of Edinburgh, shared that current observations are hinting at a relief from a major catastrophe.

“This doesn’t mean that the eruption will stop soon. Like the weakening spray from an aerosol can, the eruption rate declines exponentially. The lower the flow, the more slowly it declines.”

Despite Stevenson’s optimistic outlook, the scientific committee of the Civil Protection Agency reported that Iceland is not yet out of danger, according to the Iceland Review.

“Things could develop differently and scenarios involving an eruption under the glacier and in Bárðarbunga are still possibilities. Seismic activity and lava production are though still large-scale in comparison to eruptions in Iceland over the last hundred years.”

Scientists are taking samples from the lava flow and examining them to determine the origins. Current studies have shown that they are originating from the Bardabunga volcanic system. Constant observation is expected to determine the danger level to Iceland’s population. It is currently estimated to be the third-largest lava flow since the Skaftáreldar eruptions in the mid-1780s.

[Photo Courtesy: Iceland Mag]

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