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Continued Seismicity in Katla Volcano

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Continued Seismicity in Katla Volcano

Katla in Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Photo: Páll Stefánsson

The Icelandic Met Office picked up continued seismic activity in Katla volcano yesterday. At 3:12 pm a tremor of magnitude 3.3 occurred. Around 2 am the previous night, earthquakes of magnitude 4.5 and 4.6 hit the volcano—the largest to be recorded there since 1977.

Geophysics professor Páll Einarsson told RÚV that the activity in Katla is similar to that in 1977, when no eruption took place. “Earthquakes of this magnitude which have occurred in Katla so far have not been led to volcanic eruptions. These are movements in the earth’s crust and are certainly connected to the volcano but not directly to movements of magma.”

Kristín Jónsdóttir, coordinator of the Icelandic Met Office’s natural hazards division, said on RÚV’s Rás 2 radio yesterday afternoon that it’s unclear how the activity will develop. She stated it’s not a question of whether but when Katla will erupt, pointing out that an unusually long time has passed since the last volcanic eruption in Katla, which occurred in 1918.

“We mustn’t forget that Katla is a very active volcano. And if we look at history, there have been 16 eruptions in the volcano since the settlement of Iceland [in the 9th century AD]. The average intermission between eruptions is 50 years but now we’re experiencing one of 98 years … So there will be an eruption, it’s just a question of when.”

Kristín stressed that scientists will be observing developments in Katla closely. “When we see an indication of an eruption having begun under the glacier [Mýrdalsjökull], it will take some time for the lava to channel its way through, before there’s an ash plume. That takes a few hours. And it also takes time for the water to flow from underneath the glacier. So we have some time to issue a warning. We have good people working around the clock.”

The town Vík on the south coast is in danger of being flooded were Katla to erupt.

Kristín added that sensors are being checked to make sure that they’re working properly and that a new earthquake monitor is being placed on Austmannsbunga on Mýrdalsjökull, which is close to the epicenter of the larger quakes.

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