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Uncertainty phase declared at Askja volcano

10.09.2021 - 10:12
Askja eftir berghlaup 21. júlí 2014.
 Mynd: RÚV - Landverðir við Öskju.
The commissioner of the state police, in collaboration with the chief of police in Northeast Iceland, have declared an uncertainty alert because of the uplift (rising land level) around Askja volcano. The heightened state of alert means the area will now be monitored more closely, civil protection department press officer Hjördis Guðmundsdóttir explains.

A statement from the state police says the most likely explanation is that magma is collecting at a depth of 2-3 kilometres. The Met Office and the University of Iceland will step up their monitoring and data collection at Askja, in the highlands north of Vatnajökull. 

Land has been rising since the start of August, but the uplift has become faster in recent weeks, according both to satellite imagery and the GPS monitor on the volcano already. 

The civil protection uncertainty alert is raised when: “A course of events has begun that could lead to the safety of people and/or infrastructure being put at risk. At this stage, collaboration begins between the civil protection department and the stakeholder organisations affected.” 

In the case of movement near a volcano, that means increased vigilance, more detailed data gathering and research. The situation is defined and regular risk assessments compiled. 

Víðir Reynisson, the civil protection chief at the state police, says there is no volcanic activity at Askja at this time, though the land has risen and there has been an increase in the number of small earthquakes. He says the uncertainty alert is being issued now so that authorities can prepare for all possible scenarios, if the land continues to rise. 

Askja has been known to produce both lava eruptions and explosive eruptions in the past, and Víðir says both scenarios are possible. Lava eruptions, like Holuhraun or this year’s eruption on Reykjanes, are more common. An explosive eruption would be more disruptive, as it could bring significant ash fall. It is also possible the land will stop rising and the volcano will not erupt. 

Askja has not erupted so far this century, but it erupted eight times in the 20th century; most recently in 1961. All were relatively small eruptions, while the 1875 eruption caused problems for farms in the region, poisoning the land and killing animals with its heavy ash fall.  

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