Monday, March 22, 2010

Eruption at Fimmvörðuháls in Southern Iceland; Katla May Be Next

Iceland's Ambassador to the U.S., Hjálmar W. Hannesson emails this note:
So far - this is just what we in Iceland call a small tourist eruption between the glaciers in the south of Iceland, Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. No water floods - so-called glacier bursts - jökulhlaup - have therefore accompanied this eruption. There have now been 4 eruptions at Fimmvörðuháls since the settlement of Iceland in 874, the last one was in 1821. Fimmvörðuháls is perhaps the most popular hiking trail in the highlands of Iceland. Thousands walk there each summer and the hike takes approximately 10 hours. An extremely scenic route and challenging.

However, close by looms the infamous Katla under the ice cover of Mýrdalsjökull. Katla has erupted about 20 times since 874 and has been "due" since about 1960 if history is an indication. In other words an eruption there has been expected by geologists for the last 50 years. An eruption in Katla always means huge and dangerous floods, destroying the highway (No. 1) and its bridges to the south of Mýrdalsjökull. Ash can also be a threat from Katla.

Because the eruption at Fimmvörðuháls started in the night about 500 people living in the vicinity were evacuated according to well rehearsed civil defense plans. All but the families of the 14 farms closest to the eruption have now been allowed back to their homes. Livestock animals are not affected so far, this has mostly been a lava eruption hitherto, but some ash has fallen on the ground and therefore cattle, sheep and horses in some of closest of the farms are being kept inside barns, etc. for safety.

After each of the 4 recorded eruptions in Fimmvörðuháls, Katla has erupted - the two seem geologically connected - and therefore all civil defense is in the state of full alert. Minor earthquakes were reported this morning.
The attached photo was taken ( further South from Gunnarsholt) Saturday night and the white streak is from the lights from the village Hvolsvöllur

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