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Indecisive Volcano Triggers Brief No-Fly Zone in Iceland

Aug 29, 2014 11:29 AM EDT
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Iceland's Barðarbunga volcano really can't make up its mind on whether or not it wants to show off. The Icelandic volcano officially began to erupt last midnight, prompting officials to declare a no-fly-zone over the volcano. Now, however, that declaration has been rescinded, as it appears to be a relatively shy eruption.

According to the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO), the first signs of lava flow were detected emerging from Bárðarbunga at 12:02 AM, detected by a web-camera located at Vaðalda, northeast of the eruption site.

Eighteen minutes later, fast-acting field scientists confirmed the eruption, which was ongoing beneath the Dyngjujökull glacier. The eruption site was quickly identified as an old volcanic fissure slightly north of the glacier's ice-margin in the Holuhraun lava field. The fissure itself is nearly 2,000 feet long, but appears to be spewing lava at a relatively calm rate.

The IMO has been closely monitoring the eruption site for some time, detecting well over 1,100 earthquakes in the immediate area just yesterday. Seismic activity finally died down in the wake of this eruption, with mounting magma pressure finally finding release.

At the start of the eruption, the IMO had declared a code red aviation warning over Bárðarbunga, effectively shutting off a vast swath of airspace up to 5,000 feet over Iceland, for fear that rising volcanic ash would ruin visibility and potentially clog and damage jet turbines.

However, aerial observations by the Icelandic Coastguard showed that only steam is rising from the site of the lava eruption, and by 10 AM the IMO had changed its Aviation Color Code for Bárðarbunga back to orange.

"The alert levels are similar to what they were before this eruption started," Rikke Pedersen, a geophysicist at the Nordic Volcanological Center, told the Associated Press (AP). "The volumes of magma that are coming up to the surface are really, really small in comparison to what we've seen being intruded in the past 10 days into the crust."

Still, in the midst of all this excitement, everyone has forgotten about the Askja volcano. Just 30 miles away from the current eruption site, Askja had been seeing increasingly severe seismic activity, and recently had its aviation warning evaluated to code yellow - for obvious signs of "unrest."

The IMO will be keeping close tabs on both these volcanoes, but does not expect dangerous activity at this time.

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