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.

Yellow Weather Alert Takes Effect for All of Iceland

Waves crashing over Reykjavík lighthouse

A yellow weather alert took effect for most parts of the country early this morning. A quick thaw later in the day is expected to produce heavy snowmelt. Residents are encouraged to clear snow away from gutters and icicles from roofs.

Extreme cold finally coming to a close

After six weeks of extreme cold, the weather in Iceland began to warm last night. In an interview with Fréttablaðið yesterday, Teitur Arason, a meteorologist with the Icelandic Met Office, stated that the cold spell was finally coming to an end.

“Today is the last day with this extreme cold,” Teitur said yesterday. After warmer weather this weekend, however, it will get cold again – but not as cold as over the past six weeks.

“On the one hand, the forecast expects a storm during the early part of tomorrow and then followed by a quick thaw.”

Teitur expects that the weather will grow calmer on Sunday but after the weekend, winter weather is expected to set in again. December and January have been unusually cold:

“What’s unusual, and what will go down in history, is this cold snap that has been going on for the last six weeks; we’ve seen an unusually long period of extreme frost. The swing in temperature over the course of one day will be quite extreme – and we will probably see the greatest swings in temperature in Víðidalur valley in Northeast Iceland. It was freezing there this morning (-23.4°C), but tomorrow [i.e. today, January 20) ] temperatures will rise to 7°C. That’s a swing of thirty degrees. This owes to the fact that we’ve been sitting in cold air and then a low-pressure system will move into the country and bring a lot of hot air. This is more normal weather at this time of year as opposed to this long cold snap.”

In an interview with Mbl.is yesterday, Jón Þór Víglundsson, Public Relations Officer for ICE-SAR (the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue), stated that rescue teams were at the ready: “The forces are ready, and if they have to, they will be called out.”

Difficult road conditions are expected to form over the course of the day.

Rivers in Outer Reykjavík Flood Their Banks

The Elliðaár River flooded its banks in several places on Sunday afternoon, RÚV reports. The deluge comes in the wake of significant thawing this weekend, which has increased flow into rivers around the country. Daníel Freyr Jónsson, one of four geologists who manages the Facebook group Eldfjalla- og náttúruvárhópur Suðurlands (‘Volcano and natural hazards group of South Iceland’) documented the flooding.

Daníel Freyr Jónsson, Eldfjalla- og náttúruvárhópur Suðurlands (FB)

The Elliðaár river is fed by Lake Ellíðavatn on the eastern outskirts of Reykjavík. The river forks in the district of Árbær, where it bounds the Elliðaárdalur valley, a popular outdoor recreation area. Lake Ellíðavatn also feeds several other rivers, including the Bugða and Hólmsá rivers. According to the Met Office, flow into both the Bugða and Hólmsá rivers has increased significantly over the weekend; flow into the Hólmsá tripled in just over 24 hours between Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon.

Daníel Freyr Jónsson, Eldfjalla- og náttúruvárhópur Suðurlands (FB)

Sunday’s flooding took place in the Víðidalur valley, not far from where Breiðhóltsvegur crosses the Elliðaár river. Large areas of vegetation and footpaths were also submerged around the Norðlingaholt neighbourhood and the Rauðhólar pseudo-craters where the Bugða river overflowed its banks as well.

Daníel Freyr Jónsson, Eldfjalla- og náttúruvárhópur Suðurlands (FB)

Eldfjalla- og náttúruvárhópur Suðurlands credits the flooding in Norðlingaholt in part to human intervention, as the pedestrian and horse bridge there significantly narrows the Bugða river. As of noon on Sunday, the water level of the Bugða river had almost reached the bridge floor.