Let me introduce you to Bárðarbunga.

Last updated: Jan 30th, 2019

Landsat 1 satellite image from NASA, 22.09.1973. Vatnajökull Bárðarbunga top left, place names at LMI.
Landsat 1 satellite image from NASA, 22.09.1973. Vatnajökull Bárðarbunga top left, place names at LMI.

The latest Icelandic volcano to interest the UK media is Bárðarbunga. First things first let’s start with the pronunciation B-ow-r-thar-boo-ga (or something along those lines). Easier than the infamous Eyjafjallajokull but not without its own challenges.

Last night, after weeks of seismic activity, a small fissure eruption occurred north of Dyngjujökull and the status has once again turned to red. At the moment no volcanic ash has been detected but scientists will continue to monitor the situation closely and are due to fly over the area today.

Until a few weeks ago this name was unheard of by the majority of the population. So what do we know about Bárðarbunga? Well it is 2,009 m above sea level (the second highest mountain in Iceland) but is submerged beneath the north western edge of the huge Vatnajökull ice cap along with several other subglacial volcanoes, including Grímsvötn. It is the central volcano of the Bárðarbunga volcanic system which is about 190km long and up to 25km wide. It has an 80km² and up to 700m deep, ice-filled caldera. The new fissure has occurred within this volcanic system.

Volcanic activity is not uncommon in Iceland.On average a significant volcanic event occurs once every 5 years. Iceland sit at the junction of the diverging North American and Eurasian plates along the Mid Atlantic Ridge but volcanic activity is intensified by the presence of a mantle plume currently believed to be beneath Vatnajökull.

Over the last seven years seismic activity has gradually increased in the Bárðarbunga system and whilst it did drop following the Grímsvötn eruption in May 2011, activity started to increase again soon after.

Immense eruptions and explosive eruptions are possible in the system and if this occurs under the glacier the threat of huge jökulhlaups (glacial outburst floods) are a concern along with tephra fall.

What happens next remains to be seen but the Icelandic authorities continue to monitor the situation closely and will respond accordingly to mitigate the impacts on local people. Once again Bárðarbunga keeps us waiting.