Monday, August 18, 2014

Iceland's Bárðarbunga Volcano Alert Raised After Quake Swarm [UPDATED 8/20]


An ongoing volcano-tectonic quake swarm in Bárðarbunga in Iceland has prompted the Icelandic Meteorological Office to raise it's alert status to Yellow, and today, it was raised to Orange. Hundreds of quakes, some above magnitude 3.0 have occurred under the glacier. GPS instrumentation is detecting upward-and-outward movement, suggesting magma dike intrusion, and potentially signaling the beginning of eruptive activity. So far, no visible signs of an eruption have been detected, but given the situation, this can change at any time.

Image from Iceland Met office showing continuous quake swarm on Northern Vatnajökull Glacier

It does look likely at this point an eruption will take place, however it is not certain. Many dike intrusions do not result in an eruption, however the area was last active in 2011, when the Grimsvötn volcano, under the same glacier, erupted. Given the amount of ice in the area, if an eruption were to occur, it would likely disrupt air travel as the eruptions of Grimsvötn in 2011, and Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 did.

Aside from a suspected small eruption from Katla volcano, no eruptions have taken place since 2011 in Iceland. Some volcanologists suspected the island was due for some action, and it appears to be here.

Web cams are being set up, according to Jon Frimann's blog. If eruptive activity does end up taking place, I'm assuming the world will probably be treated to a live feed, which will be interesting. The quakes have also seemed to possibly spur some activity in Kverkfjöll volcano, West of Bárðarbunga, with a couple mag >3.0 quakes striking at shallow depths there as well.

Google Earth image of the Vatnajökull ice glacier and associated volcanoes.

This volcanic system is dangerous, and has a long history of creating some misery for Iceland and Europe. The Grimsvötn system and associate Laki fissure system was responsible for one of the largest basalt floods in human history, killing off one fifth of the population of Iceland during the 1700's. Bárðarbunga volcano is related to this system, although it is a different eruptive center. North of Bárðarbunga is a large fissure field, very similar to Laki. 

I will post updates to this blog as further developments unfold. Stay tuned...

*****UPDATE 8/18/2014 @ 2:10pm PST*****

IMO (Iceland Meteorological office) has now confirmed magma movement beneath Bárðarbunga, and is now enforcing a no-fly zone around the volcano. Although no eruption has yet taken place, it now appears semi-likely that this will occur, possibly within the next couple days or weeks.

The pattern of rapid inflation and seismicity is reminiscent of the buildup to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, where rapid inflation was detected by GPS instruments. At this point, it would be a pretty good guess as to say the volcano is priming for eruption. Airline companies would do well to plan accordingly in Europe, and anywhere else with connecting flights. After the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, airplanes in many countries have been outfitted with ash-detection equipment, and are better equipped to avoid most volcanic ash clouds should they encounter them.

Harmonic tremor is consistently increasing, which is a sign magma is on the move. Earthquake frequency has remained steady, and GPS continues to record inflation.

Get ready!

*****UPDATE 8/19/2014 @ 7:20am PST*****

The earthquake swarm continues with no signs of letting up. There have been no pauses in the frequency of the quakes, and harmonic tremor is still strong. IMO is still reporting no surface activity, but this can change at any time. Harmonic tremor and rock-fracture quakes indicate magma movement, and along with GPS signals it is a safe bet magma is on its way to the surface. If or when it breaks through is too soon to say. As magma must travel many miles from the plume, through rock fractures and fissure systems, and eventually through the ice to the surface, it could be a while. The strongest quake so far in the system has been a ~4.5 quake centered in the subglacial caldera of Bárðarbunga. Many quakes have had greater than a mag 3.0. Most are around 1.5-2.9.

A (poorly translated... thanks Google) statement from IMO this morning is quoted (badly) here:

"Seismicity around Bárðarbunga is still high. Easing around midnight, added back up of 4 and again slightly decreased. The activity goes said forward in waves. The largest earthquakes occurred under the morning but they were all under 3 in size. Activity is largely confined to the eastern Bárðarbunga has shifted slightly to the northeast."

(Please excuse the poor translation, as Google Chrome's translator isn't quite there yet, but you get the idea).

A webcam was installed to monitor the volcano, and can be viewed here.

*****UPDATE 8/20/2014 @ 7:22am PST*****

The quake swarm continues at Bárðarbunga. This morning has so far seen a slight uptick in intensity, with two mag 3.0 quakes recorded in the last 24 hours, and higher magnitude quakes on average than yesterday. Numerous (and un-countable) quakes are still being recorded at intense frequency. GPS continues to show NE motion and uplift of the mountain, indicating magma dike intrusion is still taking place. NO surface activity has yet been detected. Kverkfjöll volcano lies directly east of the Bárðarbunga fissure system, and it is possible dike intrusion could ALSO disrupt this volcano... it is unknown what could happen if their magma chambers meet... Europe is starting to get nervous, but airlines are confident their ash-detectors will help avoid travel chaos (we shall see!), and avert the same sort of log jam that Eyjafjallajökull created in 2010, and Grimsvötn (Grimsnes) in 2011. Keep your eyes on that webcam. I would guess we should start seeing something in the next week or so if this keeps up...

*****UPDATE 8/20/2014 @ 9:16am PST*****

According to the Wall Street Journal, "Iceland's civil protection authority is evacuating people from the area surrounding the island country's Bárðarbunga volcano as earth tremors raise fears of an impending eruption."

At this time, the quakes are occurring at around 5-12KM below the surface and have not yet occurred at shallower depths. What is most likely occurring is that magma is 'plateaued' and slowly filling the magma chamber. If we start seeing quakes move upwards to depths less than 5km, it becomes more likely that rapid ascension of magma may occur. Rock-fracture quake signals, and long-period events would be a good indicator of this happening. Harmonic tremor is still quite strong, so we do know magma is being primed. When it might burst upwards is a good question without a good answer.

*****UPDATE 8/20/2014 @ 10:40pm PST*****

According to volcano blogger Jon Frimann, he has begun to record some long period quakes at this time,a s I previously predicted would happen if the volcano continued to inject magma. This means that rock fractures are occurring, and the lava 'sill' or 'plateau' where the magma is accumulating is under immense pressure, and magma is trying to find a way to the surface. Long period (LP) quakes typically do indicate an eruption is imminent... however the quakes are still at the previous depths, and it does not appear to be rising just yet.

More importantly, these quakes are now occurring within the caldera, which has a 700 meter ice sheet covering the massive crater. Should lava erupt and come into contact with the ice, this would create a very large explosion, along with a very significant amount of ash fall/tephra. This situation would make things a bit miserable for Iceland, and definitely create an aviation hazard. However, if the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull is any guide, an eruption could also be an enormous tourist boon as well. Tourism flourished during the Eyja eruption, and sparked a lot of interest in travel to the island nation. Since there are no significant populations near the volcano, it could turn out to be yet another interest-generating event. If the eruption is large and dangerous (as the area is known to be with the numerous fissure volcanoes, including the infamous Laki flow), it might hurt more than help. Time will tell!

*****UPDATE 8/20/2014 @ 11:09am PST*****

Another larger mag 3.2 quake struck, adding to three strong-ish quakes today. 

Image from Iceland Meteorological Office.

LP quakes continue, GPS deformation is steadily increasing.

University of Iceland GPS data shows extreme deformation in a NE direction.

*****UPDATE 8/20/2014 @ 1:10pm*****

You can monitor quakes at Bárðarbunga in 3D now. This 3D diagram allows you to see depth, and is fed by real-time data. Pretty cool. A 24 year old university student tied in this 3D application to several sources to get the information into a nice 3D graph that you can manipulate and re-position. 

Image from 

*****UPDATE 8/20/2014 @ 2:41pm*****
The quake swarm seems to be lowering in magnitude, but not frequency at this time. Last couple of hours the majority of quakes have been under 2.0. This means exactly nothing, but it is interesting to watch the patterns... it could also potentially mean (and this IS speculation) that the chamber is full and magma is now pressurizing. IF this is the case, we should expect a lull in quake activity, an increase in tremor, and start seeing more LP events taking place. Hour by hour, more info is generated from instruments, so this is going to be a very frequently updated post.

*****UPDATE 8/20/2014 @ 8:38pm PST*****

The quake swarm at Bárðarbunga has generated 2 more 3.0 or greater quakes. Seismicity remains around where it was, pretty stable at mostly >2.0 quakes, with the exception of the two larger ones. Surface conditions remain unchanged. Harmonic tremor remains very elevated, suggesting that magma intrusion from the mantle plume is continuing. This could end up being a highly energetic eruption.

Rare Lava Lake At Shishaldin Volcano

Alaska's Shishaldin volcano has apparently formed a lava lake deep within its summit crater, making it one out of only several active lava lakes on the planet. AVO's current update has the volcano remaining at aviation code 'orange', and eruptive activity has remained stable. AVO states:

"Low-level eruptive activity continues. Sound waves are currently being detected from the direction of Shishaldin on infrasound sensors located on Akutan Island. These signals are consistent with low-level activity at the volcano. No actvity (sp) has been detected in mostly cloudy Satellite images and web camera views are obscured by weather. No significant activity noted in seismic data."

Picture from AVO showing the small lava lake within Shishaldin's summit crater. (Credit Cyrus Read)

Shishaldin volcano is one of Alaska's most active volcanoes. A beautifully symmetrical volcano on Alaska's Unimak Island, far from any human population. The mian danger from this volcano could be unexpected ash emission, which would potentially be harmful to aircraft. However, the presence of a stable lava lake makes this rather unlikely, as gas is easily vented at this time, so large explosions are a bit less likely than say, if a lava dome was forming. In any case, keep your eyes on AVO for future updates and more great photographs. I'll post another update if anything changes. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Curious Quake Swarm in NW Nevada

Nobody at all is reporting on this, although it's no secret either. There is an oddly shallow and very active quake swarm occurring in NW Nevada, about 65 KM ESE of Lakeview, Oregon (as USGS reports it) and it has been going on now for over a week and a half.

The area the quakes are occurring in does not seem to have any significant human population, and appears to be mostly mountainous desert, overlain by igneous rocks of what I'm guessing are older than pliestocene. There isn't a lot of info on the area, much less any geological information I'm able to find.

In any case it appears to be a long series of very shallow quakes ranging in size from <1.0 to greater than 3.5. The area does appear to be on a spreading rift, and probably has a past history of volcanism, but there are no records to confirm this.

As these quakes have ranged in depth from <2km to near surface, I'd say we are looking at a purely teconic event, and nothing related to volcanism. Again, there are no news articles or blogs I'm able to find. Below is a screenshot.

Google Earth Screenshot of location of quake swarm using USGS overlay.

I'm purely writing about this out of curiosity, and want to keep speculation to a bare minimum. I wonder if any USGS people would like to comment on what they suspect this is? It's happened before!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New Round Of Warnings For Mt Fuji

Apparently the news media wants to remind you of the dangers posed by Mt Fuji, who's magma chamber has been pressurized to unprecedented levels following 2011's major 9.0 earthquake in Japan. A 6.4, and 5.0 quake followed, centered under Mt Fuji, which has caused some concern for scientists and nearby cities. I reported on this over two years ago, and while not much has changed, it seems that this is back in the headlines again, so I thought I'd set the record straight, lest the news media sends you into a panic.

Mt Fuji seen from Japan.

Here are some basic facts.

Yes, Fuji is under an immense, even record amount, of pressure in its magma chamber. The pressure is currently greater than it was during the 1707 eruption which blasted a massive crater in the SE flank of the mountain. This means that any further disturbances, such as medium to large quakes in the region could fracture rock, and allow for magma and gas to rise, raising the risk of a highly explosive eruption.

This is by no means imminent, as it is impossible to predict quake activity or location. It simply means that Fuji is primed, and large quakes close to the mountain would increase this risk. Right now, no seismicity other than normal background rumblings are occurring. So there is no need at this time to panic.

Japan has been criticized for its lack of disaster planning regarding Fuji, however last year they did release a new evacuation plan in the event of an eruption, which would likely give some warning in the form of increased tremor (long period quakes, rock fracture tremors, etc) and increased gas emissions.

The important thing for scientists, and Japanese residents is to simply remain aware and vigilant of the threat. Japan is still recovering from the aftermath  of the 2011 quake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant which was damaged by the quake. A massive volcanic eruption from Fuji IS in the future for Japan, it is only a matter of time. That time however is impossible to know. Fuji is capable of depositing significant amounts of ash as far away as Tokyo, so an eruption would have severe consequences for an island already stressed by other disasters.

But again, this is nothing new, and we have known that Fuji is primed for several years now. As I can attest looking at my traffic charts on my own blog, any news about Fuji, one of the worlds most famous volcanoes, is always a click-generator. It doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention, but don't lose too much sleep over it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Outburst Flooding From Katla Volcano Iceland [UPDATED 7/16/14]

It appears that Katla Volcano in Iceland, under the Myrdalsjökull ice glacier is experiencing heightened activity. Fellow volcano blogger Jon Frimann has posted that Iceland has raised the alert level to 'uncertain', as glacial outburst floods or 'jökulhlaups' have been occurring, in conjunction with rising conductivity levels in rivers, as well as gaseous hazards being reported.

Katla volcano had a minor eruption following the now-famous eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010.

Current seismicity is concentrated within the Katla caldera underneath the glacier, and no eruptive activity on the surface is yet apparent.

It is too soon to say whether any activity will increase. Other areas in Iceland are showing increased seismicity, including the Askja system, and the Torafjökull volcanic system, however no eruptions have occurred in Iceland since mid 2011 when the last eruption of Grimsnes (Grimsvötn) occurred.

If any updates happen, I'll update this post.

*****UPDATE 7/16/14*****

A larger quake swarm is occurring within the Katla caldera. The largest quake, which occurred yesterday, was magnitude 3.1. While numerous, these small quakes do not represent anything truly immense at this point. It is possible that eruptions might begin at the volcano, but these would likely be small, and probably not energetic enough to break free of the glacier.

(Click to enlarge) Image from Meterological Office showing quake swarm in Katla caldera.

Iceland has lifted the 'uncertain' warning from Katla, however it is possible for jökulhlaups (glacier outburst floods) to occur with little warning. Given the activity, I'd steer clear of the volcano and associated watersheds until things calm down. Hazards include jökulhlaups, gases, and the possibility of explosive eruption (even if unlikely at this point).

I'm keeping my eye on this one for a while. Iceland has had a few years of relative calm (by relative, I mean nothing too explosive... the land there is always seething), which is always a little nervous. Iceland's many volcanoes are always a potential threat, and can erupt with little, or very subtle warning.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Large Quake Swarm at Long Valley Caldera, CA

After a few months of relative quiet at California's Long Valley Caldera, East of Mammoth Mountain volcano, activity has intensified with hundreds of small and shallow quakes at depths of around 4.7 miles. Many small tremors are occurring below the surface about 1.5 miles north of Yosemite Mammoth Airport. These are small quakes, and likely not able to be felt by anyone not at the epicenters. These quakes are interesting mostly due to the sheer numbers, not the magnitude.

More than likely these are hydrothermal 'spasmodic' quakes, related to liquid movement under the surface, and likely not a result of any serious magma intrusion. If there were a large intrusion of magma, you would expect to see the depths of the quakes change (these are all relatively consistent) to progressively shallower depths. Since this isn't occurring, it is reasonable to assume this is simply normal behavior for Long Valley's large hydrothermal system, rivaled only by Yellowstone in the US.

Image from Google Earth with USGS overlay detailing locations of quakes in Long Valley.

The Long Valley caldera is a so-called 'supervolcano', like Yellowstone, or the Valles Caldera in Mew Mexico. Long Valley was the source of one of the largest eruptions on Earth, approximately 760,000 years ago, which created the voluminous Bishop Tuff, a layer of ash and debris that spans most of the continental US. Like Yellowstone, Long Valley is capable of 'nation ending' eruptions, however this, like Yellowstone, would be extremely unlikely in our lifetimes. 

The last 'serious' activity at Long Valley was a 6.0+ mag quake in the late 70's, which was followed by rapid 'doming' in the center of the caldera. On average this 'resurgent doming' has added several centimeters in height per decade.

It is likely in the future that activity will resume at Long Valley, given the doming, active geothermal system, and persistent seismicity. For now, I wouldn't lose any sleep over this, as it is not only quite common, but completely normal activity. If larger quakes were to 'swarm' in the area, this would be a cause for concern.

*****UPDATE 7/11/14*****

Looks like the swarm is over for now. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Is Mauna Loa Rumbling Back To Life?

Recent quake activity within the Mauna Loa volcanic system on the Big Island of Hawaii has some scientists and spectators wondering if Mauna Loa could be gearing up for another eruption in the near future. Many small quakes have been recorded under the summit and rift system lately, however this does not mean an eruption is imminent. While gradual inflation of the volcano has been occurring since 2010, the volcano is not displaying any signs typical of the volcano gearing up for an eruption, such as drastic inflation, changes in fumerole temperature, or large, rock-fracture quakes associated with magma rising through the crust.

But that really could change at any moment...

The main thing that would prevent an eruption of Mauna Loa is the fact that Kilauea is still highly active, and venting lava every day. This releases some pressure on the magma chamber of Mauna Loa, but deep down, the volcanoes are in fact linked at the magma source. If the magma plume exceeds what Kilauea pumps out, which is probably what's occurring slowly, Mauna Loa would experience refilling of its massive magma chamber, and slowly prime for an eruption.

Mauna Loa is one of Hawaii's most active volcanoes aside from Kilauea and Hualei (which last erupted in 1801), having last erupted in 1984 simultaneously with Kilauea who's 1983 eruption is still ongoing to this day. Typically Mauna Loa has erupted every several decades, and some volcanologist are of the mind that it is 'overdue' for an eruption - however volcanoes are never on a 'schedule', and statistical data for their eruptive periods is nearly useless.

There is no telling when Mauna Loa might actually erupt. Despite many efforts by the scientific community to accurately forecast volcanic eruptions months, or even years in advance, the technology and methodology simply has not coalesced yet. While it is easy to warn of an imminent eruption for most volcanoes a few hours before the activity increases (or at the very least, raise alert levels on restless volcanoes), forecasting an eruption from a volcano like Mauna Loa, which is one of the best studied volcanoes in the world, is still decades away at best.

HVO for now is keeping it's head cool and issued the most recent report on Mauna Loa:

(VNUM #332020)  19°28'30" N 155°36'29" W, Summit Elevation 13681 ft (4170 m)
Current Volcano Alert Level: NORMAL
Current Aviation Color Code: GREEN

No significant changes were recorded through May 2014.  Seismicity: Seismicity continued to be elevated over the average rates of the past 25 years-12 shallow events below summit area, 7 events to the west of Moku`āweoweo Crater (<13 km), 5 events to the north of Moku`āweoweo Crater, 17 shallow events on the Upper Southwest Rift (Sulfur Cone), 2 shallow events on the Lower Southwest Rift, 2 shallow events on the NE Rift Zone.  

Deformation: GPS and tilt networks did not record any changes in deformation rates or patterns that were significantly above the error of the measurements during May. Southeasterly motion of the south flank continued.  Gas: No significant changes in SO2, CO2 were recorded by the Mokuaweoweo gas and temperature monitors in May. Daily average fumarole temperature during the month declined from 76 to 75 degrees C, still not back down though to the 71.7 degrees average of several months ago.  

Background: Re-inflation of Mauna Loa's shallow magma storage reservoirs started immediately following the most recent eruption in 1984, then turned to deflation for almost a decade. In mid-2002, inflation started again, just after a brief swarm of deep long-period (LP) earthquakes. A more intense swarm of several thousand deep Long Period (LP) earthquakes occurred in late 2004, immediately preceding a dramatic increase in inflation rate. Inflation slowed again in 2006, ceased altogether in late 2009, and resumed slowly in late 2010.  Rising gradually to more than 4 km above sea level, Mauna Loa is the largest active volcano on our planet. Its long submarine flanks descend to the sea floor an additional 5 km, and the sea floor in turn is depressed by Mauna Loa's great mass another 8 km. This makes the volcano's summit about 17 km (56,000 ft) above its base!

The enormous volcano covers half of the Island of Hawai`i and by itself amounts to about 85 percent of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined.  Mauna Loa is the largest active volcano on Earth and is among Earth's most active volcanoes, having erupted 33 times since its first well-documented historical eruption in 1843. Its most recent eruption was in 1984. Fore more information on Mauna Loa, see the USGS Fact sheet available at   CONTACT INFORMATION:  The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is one of five volcano observatories within the U.S. Geological Survey and is responsible for monitoring volcanoes and earthquakes in Hawai`i."