Iceland volcano Katla being watched by scientists

Earth scientists in Iceland and overseas are monitoring Katla, the south Iceland volcano located underneath the Myrdalsjokull glacier, trying to find out the reason behind a recent spate of small earthquakes.

Katla is one of Iceland’s most famous, and most active, volcanoes and small earthquakes under the glacier are common – although their number and frequency has been increasing since July.

A recent increase in cluster earthquakes led scientists to question whether an eruption was starting; but a research flight over Katla yesterday revealed that the most likely cause of the quakes is geothermal melt-water pouring down into a heated crevasse.

Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson, University of Iceland geophysicist, was on the flight and told Visir.is that increased levels of heat under the glacier and more regular earthquakes could be a long-term warning of an eruption – but that there are no immediate signs to worry about yet.

Seismic activity below the volcano slowed significantly last night.

All volcanoes are difficult to predict, but Katla erupts roughly every 80 years and last erupted in 1918.

Iceland’s dozens of active volcanoes cause several eruptions per decade, on average. There were two eruptions in 2010 and one so far this year. There have also been two other media-led eruption ‘scares’ so far this year, about the Bardarbunga and Hekla volcanoes. Neither has yet resulted in an eruption.

(Photo: Ólafur Kr. Ólafsson // flickr.com/olafur)