One of Iceland’s biggest volcanoes is preparing to erupt, and experts warn the ensuing ash cloud could cause travel chaos across Europe.
The 6,590ft Bardarbunga volcano, which is hidden under the ice cap of the Vatnajokull glacier, has been hit by a series of earthquakes in recent days, measuring 3.9, 3.2, 4.7 and 4.7 on the Richter scale.
Now scientists are warning that pressure inside the volcano’s magma chamber is increasing, suggesting it could erupt within the next few years.
Volcanology expert Páll Einarsson told the Daily Star that the latest quakes are part of a series that have been “in progress for two years”, claiming that the volcano is “clearly preparing for its next eruption”.
Disaster expert Dr Simon Day, of University College London, added that the earthquakes could “precede a large explosive eruption and consequent widespread ash fall”.
The Icelandic Met Office has listed activity levels at the volcano as “high”, but has not yet issued a warning.
Bardarbunga is one of the most active of Iceland’s 130 volcanoes. Its last eruption in 2014 was the strongest in Europe for more than 240 years.
The eruption blew out two cubic kilometers of volcanic material over the course of several months – nearly ten times more than the Eyjafjallajokull eruption in 2010, which grounded 100,000 flights across Europe.
However, Dr Thomas Walter, from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, said that the 2014 Bardarbunga eruption could have been a lot worse.
“The event was a blessing in disguise as the eruption could have happened directly beneath the ice,” said Dr Walter.
“In that case, we’d have had a water vapour explosion with a volcanic ash cloud even bigger and longer lasting than the one that followed the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in 2010.”
Einarsson told the Star it is “impossible” to predict when the Bardarbunga volcano will erupt again, but said Icelandic authorities must take action to prepare for “more disastrous eruptions”.