Today commenter Islander brought to my attention some news that the Icelandic volcano Katla seems to be picking up activity. But what is actually all the hoopla about really?
Katla is as most of you know one of the larger volcanoes on Iceland, but not the largest. The largest volcano on Iceland is the far less known Bárdarbunga volcano. Katla has been dormant since 1918, with the possible exceptions of small hydro magmatic events during 1955, 1999 and 2011. The hydro magmatic events are though not entirely proven to even have happened.
Katla has a 10 by 14km caldera that seems to have been formed during a minimum of two large VEI-6 eruptions. The volcano is covered by Myrdalsjökul glacier. During eruptions the volcano emits copious Jökulhlaups (water discharged as the volcano melts the glacier) and they are the single greatest threat from this volcano. Normally Katla has eruptions that range between VEI-3 to VEI-4, with larger eruptions happening after longer times of dormancy. Katla has had two large flood basalts after the ice age ended, the 5 500BC Hólmsá Fires and the Eldgjá eruption, both of them where following NW rifts trending roughly towards the larger volcano of Grimsvötn.
Earlier today (2012-09-29) the geologist Kristin Vogfjörð appeared on Icelandic Radio reporting that during the 24th of September a set of deep earthquakes had happened under Katla and that is considered as a sign of an increase of the risk for an eruption. She carefully avoided making any predictions.
So what happened then? Late on the 23rd 6 earthquakes ranging between 0 and 0.5M happened at depths ranging from 30 to 20 kilometers. On the 24th two more earthquakes occurred at 26 kilometers depth at the same location, those two where 0.4 and 0.7M respectively. The area is in the eastern part of the caldera.
Normally I have a deep respect for Icelandic geologists, but this is just so much hot air blowing. First of all the earthquakes are so minute that the amount of in-fluxed magma can comfortably be counted in wheelbarrows. It is like taking a piss in the ocean.
There was no associated tremor pointing towards magmatic movement of any significant scale. There is also absolutely no visible motion on the GPS stations surrounding Katla. Even at worst and these earthquakes where just precursors of a later influx we are still talking about years before an eruption taking place, and one should remember that Katla has had no less than two significant influxes of magma during the last 13 years without erupting. This so called “news” will only bring out the Katla fearmongerers, without anything having happened really.
[link to strokkur.raunvis.hi.is
[link to volcanocafe.wordpress.com