Volcanic Culture (JB)

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Júlíana Björnsdóttir's picture

Participating in the Reykjavík Marathon, in my case the 10 kilometer race, is always bliss. It’s a physical challenge overcome by largely strangers running together with a shared goal of completing the distance.

A volcanic eruption is certainly no less of an event. When the two events collide—as was thought to be the case on Saturday but later called into question—the level of excitement heightens.

I always get excited when a volcanic eruption commences or an earthquake strikes.

It’s an illogical and even inappropriate response to the all-empowering force of nature, especially seeing how damaging and dangerous the consequences can be in some parts of the world.

But my fascination with nature’s incredible force and the extraordinary power she possesses is simply an extension of my interest in life.

It’s human nature to be drawn to the unknown, the inexplorable, the side of nature that evaporates life from our veins.

Seismic activity has been reported in the vicinity of Bárðarbunga for over a week now. The event has caught the attention of the world, not only due to the great force of nature, but also due to fears that an eruption might ground air traffic as in the case of Eyjafjallajökull.

For a little while this weekend, the world believed an invisible volcanic eruption had started underneath the thick icecap. Later scientists confirmed that no eruption was taking place.

However, it is clear that something is going on. The activity is hidden under hundreds of meters of hard snow and rock and the only physical signs are the tremors that shake the ground every now and then.

What are the effects of a glacial eruption? If the icecap melts, a torrential glacial flood can occur. Glacial rivers are known for ferocious advance that has the capacity of breaking bridges and destroying roads.

We are very fortunate to have knowledgeable scientists, whose studies of the Icelandic landscape help them understand how it became to be the shape that it is.

The scientific knowledge of this day and age enables scientists in Iceland to give predictions of potential hazards and dangers that may occur during an eruption beneath a gigantic glacier.

All precautions are taken. Areas that need evacuation are evacuated. Measurement tools detect changes beneath the surface, changes that are invisible to the naked eye.

This knowledge of geological activity is coupled with respect for the force of nature.

An eruption under a glacier is hazardous. The risks are several, including poor air quality due to ash fall and overflowing glacial rivers. The safety of free-roaming sheep is concerning to farmers and anyone who cares for animals.

Iceland’s infrastructure is in many ways prepared for natural disasters. Solid buildings and constant surveillance of areas that are geologically active is key to preventing loss of lives.

Fortunately, many of our wildest volcanoes can be found in the vast interior, away from human whereabouts. But their reach is long.

Farmers and livestock inhabiting the land in the sphere of their influence know of the threat and have learned to live with it.

In the 2010 and 2011 eruptions in Eyjafjallajökull and Grímsvötn, farmers did their best to keep their livestock safe, rounding them up even as the ash fall turned a bright summer’s day into a pitch black night.

Actions taken by the appropriate authorities during volcanic eruptions are safety-oriented. In the case of Bárðarbunga, no tourist or local was allowed to go near the affected area, and it was also closed for air traffic.

Everything is taken into consideration. They know which areas will be worst hit by the flood and what the consequences might be.

But there is no need to panic. Neither here nor on the mainland of Europe. Air traffic is being monitored and all decisions regarding passenger safety go through the appropriate authorities.

Like the beating heart of a runner, the volcanoes and earthquakes which shape the land we inhabit, remind us of the excitement of life. The activity in Bárðarbunga is simultaneously an attraction and a hazard.

In my view, we are tenants of Mother Nature. We admire and love her properties, are in awe of her power and live in her shadow.

And how she captivates us with her sizzling mysteries.

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julianabjornsdottir@gmail.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.