Is Iceland’s Tallest Volcano Awakening? Skip to content

Is Iceland’s Tallest Volcano Awakening?

A series of earthquakes which occurred in the sub-glacial volcano Öraefajökull in Vatnajökull, southeast Iceland, three weeks ago has caught the attention of scientists who have questioned whether it might be preparing to erupt.


Hvannadalshnjúkur is popular among climbers. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

Öraefajökull’s summit is Hvannadalshnjúkur, which at 2,110 meters above sea level is Iceland’s highest peak, and makes Öraefajökull the country’s tallest volcano.

Over a period of four days last month, August 21-24, eight minor earthquakes were picked up in the volcano’s top crater, the largest of which was 2.2 on the Richter scale, reports.

Geophysicist Ari Trausti Gudmundsson said in an interview with Stöd 2 that no one is “crying wolf” but seismic activity is very rare in Öraefajökull. It isn’t certain how the incident should be interpreted but it is clear that Öraefajökull is an active volcano.

Last month’s series of earthquakes is the third to be registered in Öraefajökull since digital sensors were first used to measure seismic activity in Iceland 20 years ago. The other two occurred in December 2005 and September 2008.

When asked whether the seismic activity is in some way linked to the volcanic eruptions in Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 and Grímsvötn in 2011, Gudmundsson replied that it seems that volcanic activity comes in waves as is currently happening in Vatnajökull and its vicinity.

Therefore it is likely that other eruptions will occur in the area over the next 40 to 80 years, Gudmundsson stated.

Öraefajökull has erupted twice since the settlement of Iceland in the 9th century AD, in 1362 and 1727. The former eruption destroyed an entire region. After the area became inhabited again, it was given the name Öraefi, which means “wasteland”.

Click here to read about the volcano Katla in south Iceland being under close observation.


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