Iceland raises alert level, warning of possible volcanic eruption

The warning comes amid swarms of earthquakes that have taken place since Saturday in Bardabunga — a subglacial stratovolcano located under Iceland's largest glacier.

Jon Gustafsson/AP
In this photo taken in 2011, smoke plumes from the Grimsvotn volcano, about 120 miles east of the capital, Rejkjavik, which began erupting Saturday for the first time since 2004. Iceland's Met Office on Monday raised its risk level to the aviation industry for an eruption at its Bardarbunga volcano to orange, which is the fourth level on a five-grade scale.

Iceland's Met Office on Monday raised its risk level to the aviation industry for an eruption at its Bardarbunga volcano to orange, which is the fourth level on a five-grade scale.

Ash from the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010 shut down much of Europe's airspace for six days, affecting more than 10 million people and costing $1.7 billion.

The warning comes amid swarms of earthquakes that have taken place since Saturday in Bardabunga — a subglacial stratovolcano located under Iceland's largest glacier.

Scientists said Monday there are two scenarios: one is an explosion outside the Vatnajokull glacier, leading to minor ash emissions and troubles locally.

The second possibility is an eruption occurring inside the glacier. Seismologist Martin Hensch says the latter could lead to ash being sent high into the atmosphere.

Met Office seismologist Martin Hensch said the risk of any disruptive ash cloud similar to the one in 2010 would depend on how high any ash would be thrown, how much there would be and how fine-grained it would be.

Bardarbunga is Iceland's largest volcanic system, located under the ice cap of the Vatnajokull glacier in the southwest of Iceland. It is in a different range to Eyjafjallajokull.

The Met Office said in a statement it measured the strongest earthquake in the region since 1996 early on Monday and it had now strong indications of ongoing magma movement.

"As evidence of magma movement shallower than 10 km implies increased potential of a volcanic eruption, the Bardarbunga aviation color code has been changed to orange," it said.

"Presently there are no signs of eruption, but it cannot be excluded that the current activity will result in an explosive subglacial eruption, leading to an outburst flood and ash emission."

The color codes, which are in accordance with recommended International Civil Aviation Organization procedures, are intended to inform the aviation sector about a volcano's status.

Hensch said the biggest risk in Iceland itself was from flood waves from any eruption under the glacier. He said the area of Iceland mainly at risk of flooding was mostly uninhabited but that roads in the area had been closed.

Eurocontrol, the Brussels-based agency responsible for co-ordinating European airspace, said in a statement it was aware the Icelandic Met Office had revised the status of the volcano and it was following the situation closely.

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