While Iceland’s current earthquake swarm may lead to an eruption, all available data shows it much more likely that the earthquakes will eventually end without magma reaching the surface, Vísir reports. Scientists are nonetheless exploring possible scenarios for what might happen if it does.
Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, a professor of geology at the University of Iceland, told reporters that while an eruption is not off the table, in the majority of instances such as the current one, the tremors simply stop, without magma ever breaching the surface.
Satellite imagery has shown that in the area where most of these earthquakes have been located—in central Reykjanes—part of the land is rising up slightly, while another part adjacent to it is sinking slightly. Magnús says this is likely due to the magma intrusion that is probably happening deep below the surface contributing to the shifting of the tectonic plates which meet in this area.
That said, if the magma reaches the surface, it will unlikely be a dramatic explosion of lava and ash, but rather a fissure vent, wherein lava pours out of a crack made in the surface of the earth. Scientists at the University of Iceland are currently exploring what that eruption could look like.
The above images, generated by these scientists, display where lava flow is most likely and less likely to be present in the event of an eruption. As can be seen, in the unlikely event of an eruption, lava flow will most likely be confined to the central Reykjanes area. This does not reach any population area nor important infrastructure.
However, in the worst case scenario, this lava flow could reach the main highway which connects Keflavík International Airport and the greater Reykjavík area. Given how unlikely an eruption already is, and how additionally unlikely lava which reach this far, there is as yet no great cause for alarm. As Magnús Tumi points out, Reykjanes is a geologically active area, even for Iceland, but devastating volcanic eruptions have not been recorded happening in this area in Icelandic history.
Which is not to say an eruption in the area would be completely harmless. As Kristín Jónsdóttir of the University of Iceland told RÚV, an eruption occurring could create considerable gas pollution for the capital area. Volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson echoed this sentiment, adding that there may be some ash from such an eruption as well.
As it stands now, there have been 31 tremors in the area, since midnight last night until the time of this writing, with a magnitude greater than 3. The largest of these in this time period was a 4.1 at 2:12 this morning. All told, there have been over 14,000 tremors of various magnitudes since the quakes began last week.
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