An intense earthquake swarm started several days ago under Bardarbunga volcano, located under the northwestern part of Iceland’s largest ice cap (Vatnajokkull). The earthquake swarm is continuing at high intensity at the moment.
Bardarbunga is a large volcano, and had its last major eruption in 1477 when it produced a huge ash and pumice fall-out. If that eruption were to have occurred today, it would have major effects on life in Iceland, neighboring countries in Europe, and would shut down air travel in that part of the world.
Will it happen again? It seems likely…
Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano produced the largest known lava flow during the past 10,000 years on earth (more than 21 cubic kilometers of volume), and the largest eruption had a VEI of 6 (Volcanic Explosivity Index) – a scale which maxes out at 8 with the Super-Volcanoes.
Bardarbunga rises to 2,009 meters (6,591 ft) above sea level, making it the second highest mountain in Iceland and part of its largest volcanic system, considered to be close to 200 kilometers (120 mi) long and up to 25 kilometers (16 mi) wide with a 700 meter deep caldera.
64.63°N / -17.53°W
The thousands of earthquakes are clustered in an area 20 km east of the volcano’s caldera under the ice cap and at shallow depths.
Iceland has signaled an (ORANGE) alert for the risk of a volcanic eruption — the second-most severe level.
Given the the chaos following the April 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokul, when 100,000 flights were cancelled (from volcanic ash in the atmosphere), the current alert is worrisome.
A black swan event?
With regards to preparedness, not only are we vulnerable from man-made circumstances and systemic risks, but our survival is at times put at risk from geophysical events from beneath our feet or from the sky above. Although Bardarbunga is not a Super Volcano, it’s location near central hubs of activity and travel in Europe could have surprisingly negative ramifications for us humans, particularly if air travel is shut down and financial markets affected (dominoes anyone?)… Time will tell.