Earthquakes and eruptions in Iceland


Volcano erupting

30 August 2016

Geoscientists at the University of Cambridge are uncovering how volcanic activity in Iceland causes earthquakes - and how these can be used to keep track of where magma might erupt next.

The Cambridge Volcano Seismology group has an extensive network of seismic sensors in central Iceland, forming part of the international FutureVolc project monitoring Icelandic volcanoes.

When unrest started in Bárðarbunga volcano in the summer of 2014, the sheer density of geophysical instruments in the area meant scientists could watch in real time as magma from beneath the volcano moved to the northeast. The 5m-wide channel of molten rock travelled at 7km underground, reaching 48km from the volcano before finally erupting fountains of lava more than 150m high. The eruption lasted six months, as the source of magma underneath Bárðarbunga was gradually exhausted.

Monitoring volcanoes

Monitoring volcanoes

The Cambridge researchers recorded more than 30,000 tiny earthquakes produced as the magma forced its way through the Earth's crust. Such small earthquakes would not be felt by a human standing on the surface but provide a very precise way to track the magma's underground advance and reveal the physical processes at play. The team's results won't just help improve our ability to predict future volcanic eruptions; they could also have applications in areas like understanding seismic activity triggered by fracking.

This work in Iceland forms the subject of an exhibit at the Royal Society's Summer Science Exhibition, taking place from 4 - 10 July in London - follow @ExplosiveEarth or visit University of Cambridge website - external link.

Magma at night

Magma at night with plane

Magma at night

Magma at night

Magma with car

Magma with cars