Icelandic Bardarbunga Volcano Update: Fractures, Sinkholes Spotted During Research Flight

The Weather Channel – by Jess Baker

New features, including cracks and sinkholes, were spotted Wednesday night in the ice that encases Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano, ratcheting up concern that an eruption is near.

The volcano, which has been on orange alert for days, sits several miles under the Dyngjujökull glacier.  

During a flight to monitor the glacier Wednesday, scientists spotted several 3.5-mile long rifts in the ice, according to the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. The agency also reported scientists saw calderas, which Science Daily explains describes as “volcanic feature(s) formed by the collapse of the volcano itself.”

The University of Iceland said scientists also spotted new sinkholes 50-feet deep and “10 to 15 circular fractures.” The university added its geologists were among the scientists that would pour over the flight’s data overnight.

The changes in landscape are not a “definitive” signal that an eruption has started, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service reported, but the large cracks in the ice and the other signatures were seen in the same area where seismic activity has ramped up over the last two weeks.

Seismologists have been concerned about a possible eruption, particularly as earthquakes grow in size and frequency. Wednesday alone saw at least two tremors above magnitude 5 at the volcano. Some 500 quakes have hit the area since midnight, the Associated Press reports.

Air travel experts are watching the situation closely. The volcano sits in a major flight path from the U.K. to North America, and an eruption would cause chaos. Iceland’s aviation alert level remains at orange, the second highest.

In 2010, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul volcano erupted and sparked a week of international aviation chaos. Some 100,000 flights were canceled after aviation officials closed Europe’s air space for five days out of fear that volcanic ash could harm jet engines. Ten million passengers were rerouted, and even stranded, in airports around the world.

When a volcano sends ash thousands of feet into the air, it isn’t visibility concerns that ground planes, reports. It’s actually the chemicals in the ash that can damage a plane’s delicate engines, while the ventilation holes can become clogged and stall the aircraft.

Icelandic authorities lifted a no-fly zone of 100 nautical miles by 140 nautical miles around the volcano as a result of the downgraded alert.

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