No Changes in Geothermal Activity at Askja Volcano

Michelle Parks / Veðurstofan. Dr Melissa Anne Pfeffer taking gas measurements at Askja.

There are no changes to geothermal activity at Askja volcano, according to preliminary results from a recent research trip conducted by the Icelandic Met Office. The land at Askja has risen 70 cm over the past two years, indicating that some 20 million cubic metres of magma are collecting under the volcano’s surface. An uncertainty phase has been in effect at the site of the remote highland volcano since September 2021.

Eruption on the way?

Volcanologists in Iceland have been predicting that Askja is preparing for an eruption in the near future. While uplift (land rise) has been occurring at the site for around two years, this summer local rangers reported that the temperature of the site’s geothermal lake Víti had risen. A plume of steam was also reportedly sighted at Askja this summer.

Plume of steam was likely dust

A group of scientists from the Icelandic Met Association led by Dr. Melissa Anne Pfeffer and Dr. Michelle Parks made a trip to Askja recently to collect data at the site, including gas and water samples. The preliminary results show no changes in gas or water from previous years, though the samples are being analysed futher at this time. There are no visible changes in the landscape and measurements of temperature and acidity do not indicate chanes in the geothermal activity around Askja and Víti geothermal lake. The report of a plume of steam seen at the site on August 12 has been interpreted as dust from a rock fall on the steep slopes of the caldera.

Askja is a volcano situated in Iceland’s central highland region. Its last eruption occurred in 1961 and gave clear warning in the form of strong earthquakes and a significant rise in geothermal temperatures. No such signs have yet occurred at the site. Tourism operators have nevertheless called for improved telecommunications at the site in case of an eruption.

Tour Operator Calls for Increased Safety Near Askja Volcano

The owner of a tourism company in the Mývatn region in North Iceland told RÚV yesterday that he was worried about the lack of telecommunications near Askja, now that an eruption is considered likely within a year. Road maintenance to Askja is also lacking.

Great responsibility involved in bringing tourists to the area

There is little or no telephone or tetra connection near Askja – an active volcano situated in a remote part of the central highlands of Iceland. It takes about three hours to drive to Askja from the Ring Road. This is unfortunate in light of a possible and sudden eruption, the owner of a tourism company in Mývatnsveit told RÚV yesterday.

Over the summer, tour operator Gísli Rafn Jónsson takes groups of travellers on bus trips to Askja on a near daily basis. In an interview with RÚV yesterday, he stated that ensuring the safety of his passengers was a big responsibility – especially given the likelihood of an eruption. Volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson recently predicted that an eruption would occur in Askja within a year.

“This accumulation of magma and the conditions that can arise, which are several and varying in severity, means that I am, naturally, very worried,” Gísli stated.

Quick escape an impossibility

From the Ring Road, a highland road approximately 100 kilometres in length, which takes about three hours to drive, leads to Askja. From there, it’s about a two-and-a-half kilometre walk to Lake Öskjuvatn and Víti, which is where most of the tourists who visit Askja go. It can, therefore, be estimated that it takes about four hours to get from Lake Öskjuvatn down to the Ring Road.

“This route is very slow, and there are sections on the route that have become very worn and need to be fixed. Other parts of the route are lava, which means that it takes a long time to drive away. Speedy evacuation is an impossibility,” Gísli observed. It would be unsuitable if there was a sudden eruption, RÚV noted.

No talk of improvements to telecommunications

In the highlands near Lake Öskjuvatn and Víti there is very little telephone and tetra connection. Gísli believes that this must be redressed. “In terms of security, we have to ask ourselves if it isn’t necessary to temporarily secure a cellphone signal.”

Magnús Hauksson, operations manager of the National Emergency Number (Neyðarlínan), told RÚV that there had been no discussion about improving telecommunications in the area or how such measures could be implemented. Furthermore, it remained unclear who was responsible for ensuring electronic communication, as no one was legally obligated to guarantee telecommunications throughout the country.

These issues were, however, taken into consideration in 2018 – but that was the extent of it. Based on the situation, Magnús believes there is reason to take action. But when and how that action will be taken remains uncertain.

Askja Slowly Preparing for Eruption

Askja, Viti, Öskjuvatn, volcano

The land at Askja has risen 70 cm over the past two years, indicating that some 20 million cubic metres of magma are collecting under the volcano’s surface. Measurements show that the temperature of the site’s geothermal lake Víti has risen this summer. There are no signs of an imminent eruption at the remote highland volcano, however, and if and when one occurs, experts say it is unlikely to affect inhabited areas or air traffic.

Askja’s last eruption occurred in 1961 and gave clear warning in the form of strong earthquakes and a significant rise in geothermal temperatures. No such signs have yet occurred at the site despite the uplift and higher lake temperature, Kristín Jónsdóttir, head of the Icelandic Met Office’s Volcanos, Earthquakes, and Deformation Department, told RÚV.

Uplift also occurring at Torfajökull

While eruptions at Askja can produce ash like the Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010 that disrupted air traffic, Kristín says an effusive eruption is the more probable outcome and would most likely not impact inhabited areas or air traffic. An uncertainty phase is in effect for the area and authorities have discouraged travellers from bathing in Víti geothermal lake or hiking around Askja lake.

The Icelandic Met Office reported yesterday that uplift is also occurring at Torfajökull, a small glacier also in the Highland region. The uplift indicates that magma is collecting below the surface but no increased earthquake activity has been measured at the site. The last eruption at Torfajökull occurred in 1477.

Meanwhile, the Reykjanes peninsula’s third eruption in three years has officially ended.

Eruption at Mt. Askja Likely “Sooner Rather than Later”

Lake Askja, Askja, Volcano

Ármann Höskuldsson, a volcanologist and geochemist at the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences, told Fréttablaðið on Wednesday that the Askja volcano was likely to erupt “sooner rather than later.” Temperature patterns at the surface of Lake Askja suggest that geothermal flux had significantly increased over the past few weeks.

“It’s about to erupt”

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, the University of Iceland’s Volcanology and Natural Hazard Research Group (i.e. Rannsóknastofa í eldfjallafræði og náttúruvá) revealed that the surface water of Lake Askja (situated in the crater of the volcano Askja in the northeast of the glacier Vatnajökull) had reached a temperature of 2°C and that a thermal analysis of a satellite image showed that the water was heating up steadily.

Ármann Höskuldsson, a volcanologist and geochemist at the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences, spoke to Fréttablaðið regarding this update: “This means the geothermal fissures have opened up. It is the effect of magma flowing into the mountain. The roof of the mountain gives way and cracks open. This means that the heat reaches the surface faster and that the water heats up and the ice melts.”

Ármann added that under normal conditions there would be ice over the lake. This increased ground temperature in the area was, therefore, abnormal – which could only mean one thing: “It’s about to erupt,” Ármann concluded. The volcanologist was, however, careful to caveat this statement by saying that it was impossible to predict exactly when the eruption would occur.

“But we’ll hopefully be given reasonable notice when the time comes,” Ármann remarked.

Read the full post from the University of Iceland’s Volcanology and Natural Hazard Research Group here.

Ice Melting Atop Askja Volcano – Near-Future Eruption Unlikely

Lake Öskjuvatn

Scientists flew a Coast Guard plane over the Askja volcano yesterday, RÚV reports. Since last year, there have been frequent earthquakes and ground uplift – followed by a thaw last weekend. A volcanologist at the University of Iceland has stated that an eruption in the near future is unlikely, although he was unwilling to rule the possibility out completely.

Ice melting at an unusually quick rate

Yesterday, scientists aboard the TF-SIF surveillance aircraft flew over the Askja volcano in the central highlands of Iceland. The scientists hoped to observe the unusually quick melting of ice on Öskjuvatn lake; the water is normally frozen until April. A satellite image from Wednesday showed that snow had melted on the slopes east of Öskjuvatn. Ice had also melted from half of the Öskjuvatn lake, which is 1,100 hectares.

“I think it’s pretty clear that [the melting owes to] geothermal heat. The mountain is expanding and something is giving way. This is accompanied by geothermal heat on the surface,” Ármann Höskuldsson, professor of volcanology at the University of Iceland, told RÚV yesterday.

Scientists expect results from instruments on board TF-SIF, such as radar and temperature data, to be available today. The team also dropped a GPS device, a buoy, and a thermometer from the plane into Öskjuvatn lake. It’s been over a year since seismic activity began to increase at the Askja volcano. Since then, the land has risen by a total of 50 centimetres, and a magma chamber has formed underneath.

“It’s been flowing in for over a year since land began to rise. And then, of course, there is this data from the Cambridge people who assume that there are at least ten cubic kilometres of magma down there.”

When asked if there would be an eruption soon, Ármann replied thusly: “Not soon anyway. Although it could happen before long. But, of course, I can’t say; I think it’s pretty clear that we’ll see it on the seismometers at the MET Office some hours or days before it happens.”

As noted by RÚV, tourists are not visiting the Askja volcano at this time of year. Ármann observed that it would be necessary to monitor conditions closely when spring comes and tourists begin to visit.

Increased Geothermal Activity at Askja

Askja

Satellite images taken two days ago indicate increased geothermal activity at the bottom of Lake Askja, part of the Askja volcanic system in Iceland’s highland. Increased geothermal activity coincides with land deformation (uplift) and seismic activity in the region. There are no signs of an imminent eruption.

The Volcanology and Natural Hazard Group at the University of Iceland published a series of satellite images of Askja on their Facebook page yesterday, showing large thaw holes in the ice on the lake as compared to previous years. “The thaw holes that appeared [January 8] are big and can only be explained by increased geothermal heat in the water. That’s in line with the signs of uplift and earthquakes that have been measured (see Icelandic Met Office). So, it is therefore worth being vigilant about Askja these days.”

GPS measurements show that the land around Askja has risen about half a metre since August 2021, when monitoring began. The development has been relatively steady, with little seismic activity. In September 2021, the National Police Commissioner declared an “uncertainty phase” due to the uplift that remains in effect.

The last eruption at Askja occurred in 1961. It lasted 5-6 weeks and produced about 0.1km3 of basaltic lava, considered a moderate eruption. Askja lake is the youngest caldera in the volcanic system, occupied by a lake measuring 12km2 [4.6mi2] and 200m [656ft] deep. Askja erupts on average 2-3 times every century.

Earthquakes Shake Grímsey, Herðubreið Overnight

herðubreið mountain iceland

Early this morning, a magnitude 4.0 earthquake was detected 30 km east-southeast of Grímsey, an island off the north coast of Iceland. The quake and its aftershocks were detected in Akureyri.

Additionally, an earthquake swarm was detected at Herðubreið, in the Vatnajökull highland, the largest quakes measuring up to magnitude 3.0.

Since October 22, some 3,600 earthquakes have been registered near Herðubreið. The most powerful so far has been a magnitude 4.1, the most significant activity since measuring began near Herðubreið in 1991.

Though some several hundred kilometers apart, the Grímsey quakes, a part of the Tjörnes fracture zone, and the latest earthquake swarm near Herðubreið are a part of the same system, resting along the plate boundary in North Iceland. Herðubreið is also significant for its proximity to Askja, a major volcano system in Iceland whose 1875 eruption caused significant damage to agriculture.

Herðubreið mountain is situated within the Ódáðahraun lava field, Iceland’s largest contiguous lava field totaling 4,400 km² (1,699 mi²). Notably, Herðubreið, meaning “Broad Shoulders,” was chosen as the national mountain of Iceland in 2002. Formed by volcanic activity under a glacier, it is considered to be Iceland’s most beautiful mountain.

Eruption Still a Possibility at Askja

Askja volcano iceland

The Icelandic Met Office is closely monitoring uplift at Askja volcano in the Central Highland. Benedikt Gunnar Ófeigsson, a deformation scientist at the institution, told mbl.is that it is not possible to rule out an eruption at the site. The land at Askja has risen 15 centimetres since the beginning of August, movement that is most likely explained by magma accumulating below the surface.

Askja is located in Iceland’s Central Highland, far from inhabited areas. Over the last 7,000 years, its eruption frequency has been around 2-3 eruptions per 100 years. The last eruption at the site occurred in 1961: it was a moderate eruption that produced about 0.1km3 of lava.

Though Benedikt states that the uplift at Askja may still lead to an eruption, he added that it was too early to say when a potential eruption would occur. An uncertainty phase is active in the area.

Ongoing Uplift at Askja Volcano, “Uncertainty Phase” Declared

The National Police Commissioner has declared an “uncertainty phase” for the volcano Askja owing to ongoing surface uplift. The Icelandic MET Office and the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland will ramp up their monitoring of the volcano next week.

“Uncertainty Phase”

The National Police Commissioner, in consultation with the Chief of Police in Northeast Iceland, has declared an “uncertainty phase” owing to the ongoing surface uplift at the Askja volcano in central Iceland. Since late August, GPS observations and satellite data have registered deformation changes (i.e. changes in the shape of the surface of Askja); the surface has risen approximately seven centimetres, which is a substantial uplift for the given period.

The most likely explanation for the uplift is magma accumulation at a depth between 2-3 km. Next week, the MET Office and the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland will ramp up their monitoring network to keep a closer eye on the volcano. Furthermore, the MET Office has changed the aviation colour code for Askja from green to yellow.

The declaration of an “uncertainty phase” by the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management signals the necessity of increased monitoring of a developing situation, which could threaten the health and safety of the citizenry, the environment, or infrastructure. The procedure ensures formal communication and the exchange of information between relevant response parties.

No indication of an imminent eruption

As reported by Iceland Review earlier this week, surface uplift can culminate a volcanic eruption; however, it is also conceivable that the magma will cool and congeal without ever reaching the surface. There are currently no indications that an eruption is imminent.

The Askja volcano is seismically active and earthquakes are regularly detected in the area. There has, however, been no change in seismic patterns, which would indicate increased volcanic activity, according to Sigþrúður Ármannsdóttir with the Icelandic Met Office. The last eruption at Askja was in 1961 and lasted roughly six weeks.

The Met Office notes that active volcanoes in Iceland are often characterized by periods of inactivity, lasting years to decades, with intervals of enhanced seismicity, geothermal activity, and inflation. In most cases, magmatic intrusions do not culminate into an eruption. The ongoing eruption in Reykjanes began about a year after land started to rise in the area. At this stage, there is no immediate danger to travellers in the area. It is very difficult to anticipate how the situation will evolve but the Met Office will continue to monitor the situation.

Motorcyclists Fined for Off-Roading in National Park

Four French tourists were fined a combined ISK 400,000 [$3,575; €3,092], after driving their 4WD-equipped motorcycles off-road within the Vatnajökull National Park on Friday, RÚV reports.

The incident took place not far from the Herðubreið tuya volcano in the highlands, to the east of the Askja caldera; the motorcycles left deep tire tracks in their wake. After being detained by Vatnajökull National Park rangers, the tourists owned up to their offense. According to an announcement posted about the incident on Facebook by authorities in Northeast Iceland, the tourists were asked to report to the police station in Akureyri two days later, which they did. They were then each fined ISK 100,000 each.

Illegal off-road driving is becoming an increasing problem in Iceland. There were, for instance, ten off-road driving citations issued between early June and mid-July this year, and, most recently, a group of 25 tourists were fined ISK 1.4 million [$13,000;€11,000] for off-road driving by Jökulsá river and in a protected area by Grafalönd on the road to Askja caldera—not far from where the French tourists were detained on Friday.

The increasing frequency of these incidents has lead some to call for the implementation of a new highlands driving permit, while others—such as Stefanía Ragnarsdóttir, a Vatnajökull National Park ranger—says it should be possible to better inform travellers of driving laws and their environmental responsibility. “I mean we are living on an island,” she remarked after the incident with the 25 tourists in late August. “You come here by boat or plane so it should be possible to reach you and this is a lot of responsibility that we need to take on much better. This maybe lies most with car rental companies. They need to really step up.”