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.