At the time of writing the eruption at Fagradalsfjall is not only continuing unabated but getting stronger. After the opening of five new fissures, eruptive activity has focused on one crater, fissure 5. Lava now covers the Geldingadalur valley floor and threatens to engulf the first cones; lava has been flowing steadily into Meradalir since 24 April 2021.
Eruptive activity changed from continuous fountaining with effusive lava flows to periodic jetting after midnight on 2 May 2021. The change is thought to be due to degassing of the magma in the upper part of the eruption channel where a small chamber may have formed. Each jet is now accompanied by strong gas emissions. Lava flow, itself, is mostly being carried in lava channels under the crater rim, rather than ejected in the current jets so periodic jetting has not adversely impacted the output.
The onset of jetting can be seen in the tremor plots from local stations. We have included KRI because, being further away, we can see more of the lower frequency lines.
Area of the Geldingadalsgos lava field: 1.78 Km2 (1.41Km2, 03 May 2021)
Volume of erupted lava: 30.7 million m3 (23.0 million m3, 03 May 2021)
Lava discharge rate: 12.9m3/s, (7.5m3/s, 03 May 2021)
Mg0: varies from 8.5 to 9.8
K20/Ti202 ratio: increasing from 0.1 to 0.3
In the first two weeks of the eruption lava flow decreased steadily from 7-8m3/s to 4-5m3/s. In the second two weeks, five new fissures opened with lava flow varying between 5 – 8m3/s. In the two weeks to 3 May 2021, one crater dominated with lava flow increasing. In the week to 10 May 2021, there has been a large increase in the output of lava to 12.9m3/s; the lava field now covers an area of 1.78km2 with a volume of 30.7 million m3. It is thought that the increase in output reflects changes in the lava channel from the mantle to the surface; it has widened over time.
Changes in chemical composition may mean that materials are mixing in the upper mantle before ascent or there is less partial mantle melt in the magma. If the latter, the eruption will end when the mantle source is sufficiently reduced.
Geldingadalsgos is still a toddler compared to Holuhraun; Geldingadalsgos’ eruption rate is 5% – 10% of the average eruption rate at Holuhraun between September 2014 and February 2015. Let’s hope it stays that way as it is a lot closer to residential areas.
La Soufrière St. Vincent
The alert status was lowered to orange after a period of relative quiescence on 6 May 2021; only a few long period events and volcano-tectonic earthquakes are occurring each day. People are allowed back into the orange zone but the red zone remains an exclusion zone.
The last explosive event was on 22 April 2021. However, a possible lava spine was spotted on photos on 27 April 2021. Tephra fills the crater, increasing the risk of pyroclastic flows should eruptive activity pick up again. In the meantime, lahars are the main hazard.
Mount Pelée remains on alert level yellow. Volcano tectonic events are occurring and seismic activity remains at above baseline level. An area of brown and dead vegetation was confirmed on 8 February 2021 caused by diffuse CO2 emissions; the vegetation has not recovered. The volcano is slowly reawakening.
As the new volcano at Geldingadalur continues to grow, opening and closing new fissures, we have returned to our tour of Iceland. We have now reached the Northern Volcanic Zone, where the plate boundary heads northwards from Kverkfjöll to meet the Tjörnes Fracture Zone. Active volcanoes in the zone are Kverkfjöll, Askja, Fremrinámur, Heiðarsporðar, Krafla and Þeistareykir; Herðubreið, itself, is Pleistocene palagonite table-mountain.
We are starting with the currently most seismically active volcanoes, Askja and Herðubreið, located where the Eastern Volcanic Zone meets the Northern Volcanic Zone, north of the Vatnajökull ice-cap. The mantle plume, itself, is thought to be located to the north west of the Vatnajökull ice-cap.
The Askja volcanic system comprises a 1,516 m high central volcano and 190 km long fissure system, the central volcano being the Dyngjufjöll massif. It has three nested calderas, the latest of which formed in a rhyolitic eruption in 1875. The central volcano, itself, is made up of Pleistocene glacio-volcanic tuffs, hyaloclastites, pillow basalts and intercalated sub aerial lava and capped by Holocene sub aerial lavas and pumice. The fissure system, itself, extends from beneath the Vatnajokull ice-cap to the north coast of Iceland and includes small shield volcanoes.
This volcanic system does not erupt frequently; GVP records 14 Holocene eruptions which range from VEI 0 to VEI 5, the VEI 5s occurred in c. 8910 BC and 1875. Askja’s lava types are tholeiitic basalt / picro-basalt and rhyolite. Her main eruption types are effusive basalt with occasion explosive basalt or rhyolite. The 1875 eruption created a 4.5-km-wide caldera which is now filled by Öskjuvatn lake. The most recent eruption in 1961 was a VEI 2 effusive basalt one.
The Askja Fires, 1874 to 1929
Askja was little known before the Askja Fires. The area is sparsely inhabited, sited in lava fields and ash deserts. The Fires occurred during a volcano-tectonic episode between 1874 to 1929.
A steam column rising from the central volcano in February 1874 was the first observed sign that the volcano was active. Northern Iceland was rocked by many large earthquakes in December 1874. Steam and ash were seen in early January 1875 and light ashfall was noted south of Öxarfjörður. By 15 February 1875, 10m subsidence had occurred in the main caldera along with the formation of a crater erupting mud. A basalt lava flow at Holuhraun to the south of Askja occurred around this time.
On 18 February 1875, a fissure eruption started on the Sveinagjá fissure north of the volcano; this generated 0.2 to 0.3km3 of basaltic lava over the course of several months.
On 29 March 1975, the Plinian eruption at the central volcano started in earnest. The initial output was a wet and sticky tephra. Shortly after 05:30, pumice was erupted, reaching as far as Scandinavia; this phase lasted until the following day. The Víti crater was formed later in a short hydro-magmatic episode. The caldera, itself, formed over a period of 40 to 50 years, is now filled by Öskjuvatn lake. As the volume of the new caldera is greater than the calculated erupted volume of lava and ash, it is thought that the excess lava is stored in the fissure system.
In 1929 to 1930, five eruptions occurred on ring faults around the Öskjuvatn caldera, with a 6 km long fissure eruption occurring on the southern side of the volcano that created the Þorvaldsraun lava.
The 1875 eruption is not the first time Askja has erupted rhyolite. Two other instances have been occurred: the c.10ka Skolli eruption and one around 2.1ka; these deposited thick layers of tephra and ash from the latter reached as far afield as Scotland and Sweden.
Holuhraun, which should be familiar to those interested in volcanology, is the area where a fissure eruption occurred in 2014. This time the central volcano responsible was Barðarbunga. At the time there was some concern at the time that the activity in Holuhruan would extend to Askja, triggering a rhyolitic eruption. Fortunately, that did not happen.
Herðubreið is a 1,682m high Pleistocene palagonite table-mountain (tuya) made up of pillow lavas, hyaloclastite, capped by a 300m thick lava shield. Herðubreiðartögl, a small ridge extending from the south of Herðubreið, may be part of the same system. Although Herðubreið is close to the Askja and Kverkfjöll volcanic systems, in the absence of any post glacial activity it not known if it belongs to either system. We are including the volcano here as it is difficult to allocate the seismic activity in the area to each volcano without more local knowledge.
Herðubreið has been studied as an indicator of climate change during the last glacial periods. Werner et al, (1996) proposed that Herðubreið developed in stages from initial sub-aerial, sub-aqueous, subglacial to sub-aerial. The first sub-aerial activity occurred during an interglacial, creating an olivine tholeiitic shield volcano in the vicinity of Herðubreiðartögl. A lull in volcanic activity coincided with the onset of the last ice-age. Activity resumed with the deposition of olivine tholeiites, followed by hyaloclastites in a lake environment until the volcano breached the lake surface to produce subaerial lavas. The tuya, itself, was formed during the last glacial maximum when the volcano erupted pillow lavas under hyaloclastite deposits in the ice-cap; these were later topped by subaerial lavas when the volcano broke through the ice-sheet. At the end of the last ice-age, activity at Herðubreið had ceased, however, Herðubreiðartögl produced some later olivine tholeittic lava flows and ash deposits.
We plotted the area between 64.95°N,17.2°W and 65.3°N,16.0°W, a total of 45,899 earthquakes. As you can see from Fig 4, the area is very active (although perhaps we should not have used green dots in retrospect– Askja looks very unwell as a result).
The latitude v longitude scatter plot shows that activity follows a NE-SW pattern around Herðubreið, with a swarm to the south east; activity around Askja is focussed on the SE section of the caldera with some further east. The plots are data-heavy so we have broken these down by year.
The years with most seismic activity in the sequence are: 2007, 2008, 2014 and 2019.
In 2007 and 2008, there was a swarm that started in Upptyppingar and progressed to Álftadalsdyngja; this is thought to be due to magma movement. 2014 is the same year as the Barðarbunga eruption at Holuhraun; perhaps some of the seismicity is the result of the crust accommodating magma movement in the region, although the swarm here preceded the swarms at Barðarbunga. In 2019, there was a swarm to the east of the Askja caldera.
The earthquake density plots and depth v longitude plots for these years are set out in Figs 8 to 11 below.
Let’s see what the scientists have said. Greenfield et al (2016) have noted from seismic studies that there is considerable melt storage and transportation (movement) under the lower crust in the region (which may or may not be typical of Icelandic volcanoes – more study would be needed); there is likely to be a magma intrusive complex in the shallow crust round Askja; and, the activity round Herðubreið is caused by fracturing in the region.
The region is well monitored due to the risk of another rhyolitic eruption from Askja; this time around one may cause some disruption to aviation and communication systems, by how much would depend on the size and length of the eruption. In the light of the reawakening of Fagradalsfjall on the Reykjanes Peninsula, perhaps the Pleistocene volcanoes should be added to the watch list, although the monitoring of Holocene volcanoes is likely to pick up unusual activity.
La Soufrière St. Vincent
We have not forgotten La Soufrière St. Vincent; our thoughts are still with the islanders. We will do a fuller update soon. In the meantime, the volcano is still erupting and a new lava dome is forming in the crater. The island has lost up to 50% of its GDP. More aid is now reaching the island. For updates, we use News 784 (link below).
Barbados continues to clear up the volcanic ash; this is putting strain on local water supplies. For updates, we use Nation News Barbados.
R. Werner, H. U. Schmincke, G. Sigvaldason ,“A new model for the evolution of table mountains: volcanological and petrological evidence from Herðubreið and Herðubreiðartögl volcanoes (Iceland)”, Geologische Rundschau 85, Article number: 390 (1996). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02422244
Thor Thordarson (Faculty of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland) and Al Margaret Hartley (University of Manchester (November 2019). Askja. In: Oladottir, B., Larsen, G. & Guðmundsson, M. T. Catalogue of Icelandic Volcanoes. IMO, UI and CPD-NCIP. Retrieved from http://icelandicvolcanoes.is/?volcano=ASK
“Classic Geology in Europe 3: Iceland”, Thor Thordarson & Armann Hoskuldsson, Terra Publishing, Third Edition, 2009.
Updated earthquake density video added (uses satellite image as background). 12.04.2021
Geldingadalur – Where Are We at Now?
Since we last wrote, the new volcano at Geldingadalur has continued to erupt with a lava output rate between 5 m3 per second and 10 m3 per second, filling the Geldingadalur valley with more lava. The University of Iceland has confirmed that the early lava erupted has a magnesium content of 8.5%, a low titanium dioxide content and is more depleted in rare earth elements (low HREE to LREE ratio) than earlier historic lavas, indicating that it is a more primitive lava sourced from the lithospheric mantle at a depth of between 17 km and 20 km.
On 5 April 2021 at around midday, a new fissure opened up about 700 m north east of the original eruption site. The fissure, spotted by a sightseeing helicopter, was quickly confirmed by the RUV.is webcam monitoring Geldingadalur. Fortunately, no-one was in the vicinity at the time due to bad weather and sheer good luck; the site had been open to visitors at the time. The fissure is around 200 m long. Lava from the fissure is flowing into the Meradalir valley.
At around midnight on 6 April 2021, a second fissure opened up between the earlier fissure and the original eruption site. This had been preceded by a landslip earlier in the day. Lava from this fissure is now flowing into both the Geldingadalur and Meradalir valleys, linking the eruption sites. It is believed that the three eruption sites belong to the same fissure.
Unfortunately, one of the webcams set up by mbl.is to monitor the Geldingadalur cones was lost; its last image is shown below. We thank mbl.is for providing the webcam; we viewed its images with a lot of interest.
Like the original eruption site, neither fissure opening was heralded by an increase in seismicity in the immediate vicinity.
Seismicity Post the Initial Eruption
We have updated our earthquake plots for the period 19.03.2021 to 06.04.2021. We can confirm that there is very little earthquake activity in the vicinity of Geldingadalur. The fissures are not giving any seismic warning; seismic activity near Keilir dominates. It is perhaps surprising that magma has not made its way to the surface north east of Fagradalsfjall; does magma finds it easier to make its way through older fault-ridden Pleistocene rock that has not been covered in tougher historic lavas?
We have also tried our hand at making a video of the earthquake density plots by month from 2008 to 6 April 2021. Months are numbered from January 2008 (Month 1) to April 2021 (Month 160, which only has 6 days). If you make it all the way through, you will see that Fagradalsfjall has had several swarms, albeit much smaller than the current one. Enjoy!
As noted in earlier posts, for up-to-date advice and status, check out IMO or the Department for Civil Protection and Emergency, links below.
The eruption at Geldingalur, Reykjanes, Iceland, which started on 19.03.2021 at 20:25, is continuing unabated as I write. The volcano is happily bubbling away building somewhat unstable but impressive looking cones and covering the Geldingadalur valley floor with lava.
The eruption is steadily increasing at the time of writing; it has a lava output of 5 -7m3 per second. IMO have estimated that the valley would fill enough for lava to overflow into the neighbouring valley, Meradalir, in a matter of days at the current eruption rates.
Scientists at the University of Iceland are analysing the lava. To date, they have reported that the lava is a primitive one (i.e. little magma evolution in the crust), indicative of a mantle source at a depth of 17 km to 20 km.
The Reykjanes Peninsula lies on oceanic crust created by the Mid Atlantic Ridge. The Peninsula, itself, straddles the Ridge. The crust here is 15 km thick, which is unusual so close to a spreading ridge. However, Iceland is a basaltic plateau overriding a mantle plume. Both the mantle plume and the Mid Atlantic Ridge influence formation of the crust. There are no magma chambers / reservoirs in the crust on the Peninsula; magma tends to ascend directly from the mantle.
The Peninsula is made up of lava shields, móberg hills, table mountains and fissure-fed lava flows and crater rows. The shield volcanoes on the Peninsula formed at the beginning of the Holocene between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago. Shield volcanoes form from hot picrite or olivine tholeiitic basaltic lava flows with rates of c . 5m3 per second. The móberg hills formed from submarine fissure eruptions and consist of pillow lavas, breccias and tuffs. The table mountains were formed from subglacial activity, which had the activity not been constrained by the ice cap, would have resulted in shields. Later Holocene activity has comprised effusive tholeiitic fissure eruptions which formed crater rows and produced large lava flows that now cover some of the earlier formations. Historic activity has been between 940 AD and 1340 AD, including the Reykjanes Fires of 1210 AD to 1240 AD; and, the Krýsuvík Fires of 1151 AD to 1188 AD.
Geldingadalur, itself, is a small valley to the south east of the summit of Fagradalsfjall, a 385m high hyaloclastite subglacial Pleistocene table mountain formed during the Weichselian glacial period, with a subaerial lava cap on its northwest part. It is currently classified as part of the Krýsuvík Volcanic System.
The Fagradalsfjall area is seismically very active, with large earthquake swarms, notably in 1998, 2000, and 2004, and again now as part of the new volcano-tectonic episode on the Reykjanes Peninsula that started in December 2019. Various studies from previous seismic activity have noted extensive faulting under the south west part of Fagradalsfjall; these faults strike N-S and NE -SW. In addition, there are two clusters of faults under the eastern part.
Earlier swarms in the current volcano-tectonic episode have resulted in magma intrusions, such as the one at Mt Þorbjörn which we discussed last year, but no eruption. The latest earthquake swarm which started on 22 February 2021 is the only one to result in an eruption at the time of writing.
Seismicity in the Current Swarm
We have updated our plots for the Reykjanes Peninsula and dividing them between the run up to the eruption on 19 March 2021 at 20:45 and after the eruption to 26 March 2021 15:55.
The plots preceding the eruption repeat the ones shown earlier so we are just showing the geodensity plot for comparison. You will note that the earthquakes do not reach down to 15 km in the current swarm to date. However, there were one or two deeper earthquake in some of the earlier episodes.
The plots for the period after the onset of the eruption (19.03.2021 20:45 to 26.03.2021 15.55) show that activity is concentrated on Geldingadalur and two spots north east of Fagradalsjall. Seismic activity has also extended further south.
Whether the earthquake hotspots will lead to new eruption sites, only time will tell.
For the current status, please consult IMO (link below).
If you wish to watch the eruption , there are local webcams. The link to one is given below.
For this update, our information comes from IMO and the Department for Civil Defence. We will update our earthquake plots later on.
The eruption which started yesterday on a ridge in Geldingadalur has been assessed as a minor one, contained in the valley; the eruptive fissure is around 500m to 700m long; and, there is no ash or tephra. Levels of S02 are low, except near the eruption site; gases can accumulate in the valley or other depressions. The main road to Keflavík from Reykjavík has been opened. However, the road between Grindavík and Þorlákshöfn is closed. The aviation code has been lowered to orange.
The eruption may change without notice. The Department of Civil Defence warn of the potential for new fissures opening either at the current site or elsewhere from the dyke near Fagradalsfjall. Large earthquakes are considered unlikely at the eruption site but the risk for a magnitude 6.5 still remains for Brennisteinfjöll. At the moment seismicity on the Reykjanes Peninsula is much reduced.
Hazards for those visiting the site are getting too close to the lava flow and not being able to outrun any lava that breaks off it; the craters are unstable and may break, releasing a lava flow; and explosions where hot lava meets water-logged ground. The Department of Civil Defence advises observers to keep to the hills surrounding the site. Not that it is easy to get to without a helicopter!
Local webcams have been set up from which the rest of us can watch; one is: