The Huge Eruption You Are NOT Hearing About

January 29, 2016
Volcanic Eruption
Wikipedia, courtesy of Joschenbacher

One of the largest eruptions in centuries in Iceland has been ongoing for months, flooding the skies with massive pollution and…. Wait! You haven’t heard of it?

Meet the Mt. Bardarbunga/Holuhraun lava field eruption, the largest Icelandic eruption in centuries. Source: Wikipedia Courtesy of Peter Hartree

Part of the reason for this is that it hasn’t killed or severely injured anyone. It is in an isolated area of north Iceland and doesn’t even eject ash into European air traffic like the much smaller 2010 eruption of Mt. Eyjafjallajökull.

The other is that the eruption is taking place in an invisible and unpronounceable volcano. Mt. Bardarbunga is hidden under the Vatnajökull glacier, so most of its eruptions come out of the nearby Veidivötn and the Trollagigar fissures. Instead, this one is leaking out in the Holuhraun lava field.

Huge amounts of pollution are pouring out of a remote eruption under an Icelandic glacier. Source: NASA

Bardarbunga volcano started showing signs of restlessness on August 16. However, thanks to the glacier covering the area, nothing could be seen. Then on August 29, some lava finally escaped, from a nearby crack in the earth—the Holuhraun lava field. Fortunately, the eruption is very low; the largest explosion was only as high as the Statue of Liberty. So far, it is only a crack leaking lava and gas. Just in case your local newscaster doesn’t face enough tongue-twisting challenges; the only real danger from this eruption are jökulhlaups (glacier-outburst floods).

However, it is a very huge leak. So far Bardarbunga has emitted 20,000 to 60,000 tons of SO2 per day
(compared to all of Europe which emits 14,000 tons per day) since August. It has poured out more lava than any European eruption since the 1800s. Iceland has a huge acidic smog that hurts eyes and is causing breathing problems for the elderly and asthmatic.

The eruption has continued for months. Source: Wikipedia, courtesy of Joschenbacher

The eruption, thus far, has not been large enough for scientists to worry about it affecting global climate. It is adding to local cooling, smog and acid rain and some worry that the fumes will be carried further to parts of Europe. But meanwhile, no one outside of Iceland is paying much attention. One of the largest eruptions in centuries is the eruption no one has heard about.

About This Blog

Mike Steinberg is Senior Vice President for Special Initiatives at AccuWeather Inc in State College, Pennsylvania. He is also a member of the National Weather Association and the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society.