Erupting Since August, Lava Field of Bardarbunga Volcano in Iceland Now Bigger than Manhattan


Since August 2014, lava has been gushing from fissures north of Iceland's largest glacier Vatnajökull. Originating from the Bardarbunga volcanic system, the lava flow has added to the Holuhraun.

The Holuhraun is the country's biggest basaltic lava flow since 1784, creating a lava field more than 32 square miles in size, bigger than the island of Manhattan.

NASA captured an aerial view of the lava field last Jan. 3, showing newly formed basaltic rock and fresh lava. A lava lake was also visible on the lava field's western portion, with steam rising along the field's eastern borders where the lava flow meets the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum. Where much of the lava flow back in September was in surface lava rivers, activity has shifted to a closed channel on the eastern side in January.

Researchers from the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland estimate the lava field to be 33 feet thick on the eastern end, 39 feet thick at the center and 46 feet thick at the western portion using surveillance flight data. With lava volume at 1.1 cubic kilometers, the Bardarbunga eruption was classified as a flood basalt.

Though the Holuhraun lava field continues to grow, the eruption may actually be slowing down. The volcano's caldera has been sinking more slowly now, going from three feet to just 0.8 feet in a day, a clear indication that less magma is making its way to the surface.

Additionally, earthquakes that are at least magnitude 5 in intensity are occurring less, happening around once a week now when they used to be felt every day.

Just because it's slowing down, however, doesn't mean the lava flow will be stopping any time soon. Volcanologists, in fact, have predicted the Bardarbunga's eruption will continue for years.

One other noteworthy eruption in Iceland is from the Eyjafjallajokull. In 2010, the volcano spewed so much abrasive ash into the air that it disrupted air space over much of Europe for six days. Another is the Laki eruption of 1783, where the Holuhrauh lava field began. It claimed the lives of about 20 percent of the island's inhabitants.

The public is banned from approaching the lava flow because of the high risk of a fissure erupting under the glacier. If this happens, a great flood will ensue, bringing a different kind of problem to Iceland.

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