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Katla Volcano Caldera Earthquakes 2010-Sep

September 16, 2010, by Ken Jorgustin


The Katla volcano located in Iceland, lies beneath the Myrdalsjokull glacier and is located next to its little sister volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, which erupted earlier this year on 14-Apr-2010.

Historically, Katla has always erupted not long after Eyjafjallajokull, the longest span being 1.5 years and the shortest time span being approximately 6 months. As of this post, 5 months have gone by since the clock started ticking so lets have a look at what has happened at Katla during that time.

The image above just shows earthquakes that have occurred at or within the caldera itself. I have been casually tracking the Katla volcano since 17-May of this year, so this data tracks the 4 month period since then. During that time I have identified 58 earthquakes at the caldera. Also during that time I have identified 307 earthquakes at Katla including the region outside of the caldera, but still on the Katla volcano itself.

The following image “should” be an up to date current view of the caldera earthquakes:

I am focusing on the caldera because apparently many of the other earthquakes, particularly those just outside the western rim of the caldera, are being caused by seasonal glacial water runoff stresses and are not themselves indicators of potential magma movement. There are a few technical papers written on that subject, and the explanation made sense having read them.

The caldera has an area of about 42 square miles (108 square kilometers) and is about 6 x 9 miles across (10 x 15 km).


I am attributing the earthquakes that are shown here on the west caldera rim as being associated with the seasonal glacial water stress factors, because when looking at the larger map, you can see that the earthquakes continue on to the west as described in the technical papers.

That leaves three areas of interest: the northeast rim, the southeast region, and central-northeast region. The location of the 1918 eruption is in the southeast region while the location of the 1715 eruption is in the central-northeast region. I don’t have the data or the tools to show depth and 3-dimensional renderings of the earthquakes (I am not a vulcanologist, but an interested observer of geophysical events), but I’m sure that would be telling in some way.

The conclusion is that Katla has not yet concluded this portion of its history. The frequency of earthquake occurrence has been fairly constant with a few fits of exciting higher amounts once in  a while. One of the real clues will be when the number of earthquakes begin to rise significantly, as what typically happens prior to any eruption.

There is nothing we can do to stop its present course, all we can do is stay aware of the natural dangers such as this one (a Katla eruption could be possibly up to 10 times that of Eyjafjallajokull). It never hurts to examine your survival preparedness plans, particular tailored to the risks that around your own geographical location. Obviously for those living in Iceland, the dangers are great, although that is a part of their everyday life. For those in northern and western Europe, Katla will likely cause much worse air travel problems than those recently experienced following Eyjafjallajokull, and there may be breathing problems associated with Katla’s heavy asshfall – depending on wind direction at the time. For the rest of the world, the impact will be economic due to Europe being directly affected, and there could possibly be some partial blockage of the sun from stratospheric ash. We will see.

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