Katla Volcano Iceland: Biggest Quakes Recorded In 40 Years Could Signal Impending Massive Eruption [Video]

Katla volcano in Iceland is that nation’s largest and most destructive volcano. The last time it erupted, back in 1918, Katla belched out ash and gasses for over five weeks. That eruption was classified as a VEI (Volcanic Explosivity Index)-4 or VEI-5 event, which propelled roughly 0.7 cubic km of debris from beneath the earth’s crust into the atmosphere. By comparison, the Mt. Saint Helen’s eruption in 1980 was a VEI-4 event and expelled roughly 0.25 cubic km of debris.

On August 29, Iceland’s Katla volcano showed signs that it might be waking up. It is worth noting that Katla is long overdue for a violent eruption (these traditionally happen ever 40 to 80 years), and in the past has shown predictable signs that an eruption is likely impending. This time around, scientists are on alert following two of the biggest quakes to hit Katla volcano in Iceland in four decades.

The quakes measured 4.5 and 4.6 and occurred in the early morning hours, and they were enough to pique the interest and even concern of the Icelandic Met Office. They were reportedly followed by a swarm of smaller quakes.

“It is quite a dynamic situation now, in the next hours and days following this. But as we speak at the moment we do not see any signs that there is an imminent hazardous unrest about to happen”

To make the situation at Katla volcano in Iceland even more disturbing, the massive volcano is covered with an equally massive glacier (200 to 700 meters thick), reports Express. While, in theory, that glacier (part of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier system) will keep the ash and gasses from an erupting Katla volcano from reaching the surface for up to 90 minutes or so, the melting of that glacier would also cause torrential and devastating flooding and landslides.

Volcanologists are hopeful that in the event of an eruption of Katla volcano in Iceland, that 90-minute window will give authorities enough time to evacuate people in the path of a potentially horrific catastrophe, as well as divert air traffic in the area to prevent an even more widespread and deadly disaster.

If Iceland’s Katla volcano does erupt in the near future, the monstrous volcano has the potential of doing serious and substantial damage. Its caldera is 10 km in diameter, and in 1755, it is believed that Katla volcano erupted with enough force and volume to equal the combined discharge of the world’s four largest rivers.

Volcanic expert Gunnar Gudmundsson is calling the seismic activity currently taking place at Katla volcano in Iceland “unusual.” He went on to say that Katla volcano has been overdue to erupt for half a century, but it hasn’t erupted yet and it’s not erupting now. At least not yet. However, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano did erupt in 2010, and Katla volcano has a history of erupting roughly two to three years or so after Eyjafjallajokull blows its top.

While a massive eruption isn’t currently taking place, authorities in Iceland aren’t taking any chances. Iceland Review reports that because of the unusual and unpredictable activity currently taking place at Katla volcano in Iceland, a gas pollution warning has been issued.

While authorities are saying that the recent disturbing earthquake swarm at Iceland’s Katla volcano has appeared to die down (at least for now), a local river, the Múlakvís, is experiencing “increased conductivity.” Officials have also recorded higher than average levels of both hydrogen sulphide and sulfuric dioxide.

The origin of the river in question is the glacier that covers Katla volcano, and experts have every reason to suspect and believe that the elevated gasses in the water and surrounding area are the direct result of the recent seismic activity at Iceland’s Katla volcano.

If you’re interested in keeping a personal eye on the situation at Katla volcano in Iceland, you can view live camera feeds and seismographs by clicking here.

Officials are telling people to stay away from the river, and special “pollution detectors” geared to the detection of volcanic gasses are being erected nearby to monitor the situation. Seismologists and volcanologists in Iceland and around the world are keeping a very close eye on the activity at Katla volcano because they know full well an eruption would be a historic event.

[Image via JeannetteKatzir/iStock]