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Increased Activity In Öræfajökull Volcano Might Lead To An Eruption

A new caldera, measuring one kilometer in diameter, has formed over the last couple of weeks in one of Iceland’s more deadly volcanoes, Öræfajökull. According to the Iceland Met Office, satellite photos of the caldera show increased activity in the volcano.

While there are still no signs of an imminent eruption, the Iceland Met Office is keeping the area under close surveillance and has raised the eruption alert to yellow.

For a while now Öræfajökull has shown signs it was waking up from centuries of slumber, with the biggest signs having been seen in recent weeks with growing seismic and geothermal activity. The volcano, which is located on the south coast, hasn’t erupted since 1727 but an earlier eruption in 1362 was the second deadliest eruption in Icelandic history and destroyed the district of Litla-Hérað with floods and ash fall. More than 40 years passed before people settled in the area again, now known as Öræfi (meaning wasteland in English).

Although sparsely populated, the region can attract thousands of tourists to nearby Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon at the height of the holiday season. The Icelandic Civil Protection Agency says ample warnings would be issued before any possible eruption and parts of the Ring Road would be closed off where glacial flooding might occur should Öræfajökull erupt.

This photograph taken by ESA’s SENITEL-1 satellite yesterday morning (November 20th) shows the fissures that have been formed in the Öræfajökull caldera. Photo credit: ESA/European Space Agency
Öraefajökull is the tallest volcano in Iceland with a height of 2,110 meters. The actual peak of the volcano is called Hvannadalshnúkur. The volcano has a 14 square kilometers caldera that is five by four kilometers across. Photo source: Theo Crazzolara

Volcanic eruptions can have a far and wide economic impact for the rest of the globe, especially for air travel. The 2010 eruptions of another of South Iceland’s volcanoes, Eyjafjallajökull, caused a wide-scale shutdown for flights entering airspace near northern Europe. The eruptions themselves were relatively small, but they sent massive plumes of volcanic ash into the skies over Europe disrupting travel for at least 10 million people. Much of Europe’s airspace was closed from April 10 through April 15. It is estimated by the International Air Transport Association that airlines lost a total of around $1.4 billion because of the eruptions.

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