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  • Einar Páll Svavarsson

Bárðarbunga huge volcano and glacier in Iceland


The last eruption from Bárðarbunga volcano in 2014
The last eruption from Bárðarbunga volcano in 2014

Bárðarbunga is the second highest mountain in Iceland, next to Öræfajökull and standing a little over 2000 meters tall. Like many mountains in Iceland, Bárðarbunga has many different faces. In addition to being a mountain, it is also an outlet glacier placed on the northwest side of the large ice cap Vatnajökull and covering the mountain and its surrounding valleys and canyons is an 800-meter-thick layer of ice. Gazing at the ice on top of Bárðarbunga is fascinating, and the glacier can be seen in all its greatness from the center of the Icelandic Highland. But what lies beneath is probably more interesting and potentially frightening. Not so deep under the mountain Bárðarbunga, waiting patiently, is a vast magma chamber full of glowing magma eager to surface. So, in addition to being a mountain and a glacier, Bárðarbunga is also a volcano. In addition to being the second highest mountain is also the second largest volcano in Iceland, with a volcanic system that is 200 kilometers long and 25 kilometers wide. The mountain holds a tremendous natural force that everyone hopes will never be released. So, when earthquakes occur in Bárðarbunga, everyone should be intimidated.


Map of Highland in Iceland
Map of Highland in Iceland

The scary magma beneath


The lava at Holuhraun eruption
The lava at Holuhraun eruption

One of the primary indicators predicting an eruption is earthquakes, which are caused by the magma moving around near the surface. The magma is like a giant red monster of a thousand degrees trying to find its way to the surface and simultaneously shifting the earth's crust, moving its many arms from the chamber into all the cracks, fissures, and crevasses it can find with the intention to surface with its tail extending deep into the Earth's core. It is considered a frightening beast and for good reason; the last time Bárðarbunga erupted was only a few years ago, in 2014. Fortunately for everyone, the eruption occurred on the sand only a few kilometers north of the Bárðarbunga glacier. Even though it was just another eruption in Iceland, it was one of the largest in modern history in relation to the volume of lava. If the monster had found its way under the glacier, only a few kilometers south, the story would have been entirely different and more like that of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, but with more massive floods and possibly a natural disaster.


Eruptions in Bárðarbunga and nearby places

Youngest member og earths surface - basalt lava
Youngest member og earths surface - basalt lava

Although scientists predict devastating floods and even natural disasters, the effect could be less destructive if the beast surfaces under the glacier. In 1996, short but powerful eruptions occurred near Bárðarbunga in Grímsvötn. The eruption lasted for two weeks and melted a tremendous amount of ice, producing a massive flood that found its way to the southern shore instead of flooding to the north over the Highland. For Icelanders, the flood was a natural disaster with devastating effects on the landscape, with roads and bridges being the primary victims. Fortunately, no lives were lost. In addition to this eruption and the 2014 eruption, it is believed that a small eruption occurred in 1797. We are yet to see a large eruption in Bárðarbunga, but it would have devastating effects on the northeastern part of the country.


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