- Thora Arnorsdottir
- Icelandic journalist
As children, do you remember running after your siblings without being able to catch up with them? Little feet moving as fast as they could, to no avail. That feeling is what I’m experiencing these days. The reason? A volcano.
Every morning I set my alarm for 6:00 am, not to get in the shower, but to check every website with information about volcanoes in my country, Iceland. Since August 16, thousands of earthquakes have occurred below Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, which covers 8,800 square kilometers in southeast Iceland.
Scientists believe that this seismic activity is caused by the enormous amount of magma moving under the Earth’s crust, which could even move from one volcanic system to another.
A small eruption started, took a break, and renewed itself again on Friday, August 29, with much more force. The fissure is located to the north of the glacier, and when the eruption occurs below the glacier, the magma explodes when it comes into contact with the ice and the ash flows out.
Wait a minute, glacier ash? Does that remind you of anything? «Volcano, I think I’ll call you Kevin.» That was comedian Jon Stewart’s reaction to watching journalists from almost every major television station in the world try – to no avail – to pronounce the name of the Icelandic volcano that wrecked the planes of millions of people in April 2010.
The huge ash cloud from the eruption will affect the closure of a large part of European airspace for six days, leading to the cancellation of 100,000 flights. It even prevented US President Barack Obama from flying, so he couldn’t attend the funeral of the late Polish president, Lech Kaczynski. Also missing out were German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkosy.
Eyjafjallajokull came fourth on Time magazine’s 2010 Top 10 Buzzwords list, but airlines weren’t happy: the total loss figure during those days was about $1.7 billion.
Now, just four years later, it seems like it’s time to prepare for more disruption. Geological activity happens in waves, and Iceland appears to be in one of those phases now.
The island is located in the center of the North Atlantic Ridge and for that reason it is splitting in two. Half of the country belongs to the North American tectonic plate and the other half to the Eurasian one. On average, each year they move an average of 1.2 centimeters in the opposite direction. But everything indicates that 2014 will be a year in which about 50 centimeters will move.
That, however, does not mean that Iceland is actually splitting in two, as a sufficient amount of magma always rises up to fill the gap. It’s not getting bigger either, as the Atlantic Ocean is eating away at the shorelines at a similar rate.
The theory is that just below the Vatnajökull glacier, there is a hot spot, which has to do with connections to the Earth’s mantle. This is supposedly one of the few places where such a hot place exists, and that’s one of the reasons why a third of the lava that has spread across the planet in the last 500 years has ended up in Iceland.
Here is the icing on the cake. The name of the volcano system in question is Bardarbunga-Dyngjujokull. Beautiful, isn’t it? She looks like the older sister of Eyjafjallajokull aka Kevin.
And there is something strange: despite the fact that volcanic eruptions have had terrible consequences over the years, Icelanders love their volcanoes. They even name their daughters after them. Two examples are Hekla and Katla.
Icelanders respect them. There is something majestic about volcanoes, it is like having a lion in the house. We know they can be dangerous, but we learn to live with them.
Our country is young and dynamic, still being shaped and shaped by nature. The maps are modified every few years due to the continuous seismic movement, the appearance of new craters, the change of the flow of the rivers and the coastline.
We Icelanders swapped stories about where we were when this or that eruption happened, we all tuned in to the national radio service when we felt a strong earthquake to follow the events. How strong was it? Was it just an earthquake or a warning that Mount Hekla is about to erupt? Will it be the turn of the Katla volcano now?
The highlands of the Vatnajökull glacier have been evacuated and the few thousand inhabitants in the north are on constant alert, ready to leave their homes in an instant. The flood comes without warning: if hot magma finds its way out under a glacier, a huge amount of ice will melt and the water has to go somewhere.
So for the past couple of weeks I’ve been refreshing web pages and sending messages to my friends and family: Has it started yet? Not yet? Now? Most foreigners hoped that he was doing it because he was worried about them, but that’s not the real reason. They are in the capital, Reykjavik, hundreds of kilometers away. It is highly unlikely that any of them are in danger.
No, the reason is very selfish. I feel anxiety that I won’t be there to see it with my own eyes. It’s great to have the chance to spend a semester at Yale, but for an Icelandic television reporter it’s almost unbearable to imagine that she’s missing out on the Bardarbunga-Dyngjujokull eruption.
I follow through social networks my colleagues who are camping there, feeling the force of nature at work.
At this moment I am recording my childhood with four older brothers. I remember trying my best to run as fast as them, but I just couldn’t keep up.
While anyone hopes that the eruption ends soon and that the ashes do not represent a danger to the airlines, my wish is the following.
Dear Bardarbunga Volcanic System:
Can you please slow down and hold your breath until December 15, so that I, your loyal fan, can witness his spectacular show?
PS: Scientists now say the eruption could last for years. That’s comforting…sort of.
Thora Arnorsdottir is Senior News Editor at the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service and a Yale Research Fellow 2014.