A Volcano Sitting Beneath a Glacier in Iceland Might Erupt Soon

A hard-to-pronounce volcano in the middle of Iceland is showing signs that it could erupt soon, and to add insult to injury, the volcano sits beneath a glacier which could itself explode if and when it comes in contact with magma.

The stratovolcano, called Bárðarbunga (pronounced similar to "ba-thar-bunga"), sits beneath the largest glacier on Iceland according to Ben Orlove over at GlacierHub. Recent earthquake activity in and around the volcano is growing in frequency and occurring closer to the surface, suggesting that Bárðarbunga may soon erupt.

Reports Orlove at the glacier website:

More than 1400 earthquakes have been recorded, some small, some medium-sized, concentrated near the faults associated with the volcano. These swarms constitute a second line of evidence that an eruption may occur, since such earthquakes can be created by pools of magma as they move upward. The earthquakes in the last 24 hours have been more numerous, more powerful, and closer to the surface—all pointing to an increased likelihood of eruption.

Given the signs of magma movement within the volcano and the increased earthquake activity, the Icelandic Meteorological Office raised the aviation threat level around the volcano to "orange" — or a 4 out of 5 on the agency's risk scale — indicating that the "volcano shows heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption."

Americans are most familiar with Eyjafjallajökull (which is pronounced "EH-ya-fi-AHT-la-yo-coot," if you ever wondered), the Icelandic volcano that erupted in 2010. The volcano produced an enormous ash cloud that overspread most of Europe, snarling air traffic for nearly a week.

Volcanic ash is destructive to aircraft as the glass and rock that makes up the ash cloud can clog its engines and sandblast the cockpit's windscreen, leaving the pilots flying both blind and without engines in the worst case scenario.

In the (hopefully unlikely) event that Bárðarbunga erupts in the next day or two, a run of the HYSPLIT volcanic ash model shows that any potential ash would likely travel south towards the Bay of Biscay, then head east over western Europe.

[Since Bárðarbunga sits beneath a glacier, enjoy the top image of terrain in western Iceland taken by Eric Montfort and posted on Flickr]