Why Iceland’s volcanic eruption is so gooey and thrilling


Icelanders not too long ago performed volleyball as lava poured from the bottom behind them.

Why so carefree? The brand new Icelandic eruption is comparatively small and non-threatening for a volcanic eruption. And due to a well-placed webcam, it is an interesting pure occasion you’ll be able to freely stream on-line as lava oozes from the bottom.

“For probably the most half it is comparatively tame,” defined Jess Phoenix, a volcanologist and government director of the environmental analysis group Blueprint Earth.

But, even a tame occasion involving oozing and fountaining lava is a wondrous pure present, significantly the vivid red-orange glow at evening. “Volcanoes are extra wonderful than the very best Fourth of July fireworks show,” mentioned Phoenix.

The eruption began on March 19 when a brand new fissure 500 to 700 meters (1,600 to 2,300 toes) lengthy opened in a valley on the island’s Reykjanes peninsula. It occurred in an space known as Geldingadalir close to the volcano Fagradalsfjall. There, molten rock flowed up by Earth’s crust. For Icelanders, it was thrilling, not least as a result of this southwestern area hadn’t seen an eruption in some 800 years. As well, the lava did not threaten any communities. “YESSS !! , eruption !!,” the Icelandic musician Björk wrote on Instagram. “we in iceland are sooo excited !!! we nonetheless bought it !!! sense of aid when nature expresses herself !!!”

However an eruption itself in Iceland just isn’t distinctive. Your entire island consists of several types of volcanic rock. Iceland has been cast by eruptions, and new earth, within the type of molten rock, now continues to spill from the bottom and at one level fashioned a tall cone of lava (known as a spatter cone). The island lies the place two of Earth’s nice tectonic plates (the North American and Eurasian plates) meet within the Atlantic Ocean, known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The plates are transferring aside from one another, and under Iceland a plume of molten rock rises up from this geologically dynamic zone — and typically erupts onto the floor.

Some eruptions are explosive, like in 2010 when Eyjafjallajökull blew sufficient ash into the air to shut some 300 airports in Europe for a few week. The eruption canceled over 100,000 flights. However this newest eruption is completely different. The molten rock coming from some 17 to twenty kilometers (10 to 12 miles) beneath the bottom has a considerably completely different make-up (particularly a decrease quantity of sticky silica), which implies the molten rock can stream or ooze. “It is oozy and runny,” defined Phoenix. “It is like what we see in Hawaii loads of the time.” (All these flows are known as “pahoehoe flows,” named for these very flows in Hawaii.)

In distinction, when magma is way stickier, with the next silica content material, the molten rock tends to not stream. It stays underground and may construct up huge quantities of strain and warmth — typically leading to violent, explosive eruptions, just like the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980.

Watching the pahoehoe lava ooze out (from a fairly protected distance) is fascinating, and absolutely a part of the draw.

“Being on the margins of a pahoehoe stream I at all times discover it compelling to take numerous pictures and movies of ropey pahoehoe being fashioned,” mentioned Stanley Mertzman, a volcanologist at Franklin and Marshall School. “That by no means will get outdated since you suppose the subsequent picture or video will likely be higher, extra dynamic than the final.”

Close to the eruption, it isn’t nearly seeing the lava. It is also about listening. When this lava cools, a pure glass varieties on the floor of the stream. It flakes off because the lava cools. “You may hear the tinkle of the glass shards,” marveled Mertzman. And a bit drizzle or rain can sizzle on the lava, too. “The sizzle sound could be fairly placing,” he mentioned.

People taking in the volcanic glory.

Folks taking within the volcanic glory.
Credit score: Marco Di Marco / AP / Shutterstock

What comes subsequent is unknown. The eruption might preserve gushing lava for months or longer. Or it might cease now. “There is not a good suggestion of what occurs subsequent,” mentioned Phoenix, however famous volcanologists are vigilantly taking samples of the lava and air to glean hints of what the eruption has in retailer. In principle, the brand new eruption might proceed and finally develop to be an enormous volcano, over the course of millennia. Or not.

For now, the volcanic thrill continues.

In a time-lapse of the eruption one night, the exercise seems to die down a bit, earlier than selecting up steam. “It appears the outflow fee of lava will increase, just like the gods open the spigot wider,” mentioned Mertzman. “Fairly cool.”


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