Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Earthquakes Continue At Katla, Reykjanes Peninsula

Earthquakes continued to be present within Katla's caldera under the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in Iceland. Approximately 13 quakes have occurred within the last 72 hours, most under 1.5 magnitude. These quakes have been ongoing for a while now, ever since the last minor/small eruption at Katla earlier this year when a glacier outburst flood (Jökulhlaup) resulted in some minor damage to bridges and infrastructure. Katla has been relatively quiet since, with some scientists seeing the minor eruption as a precursor to something bigger, however they point out that is just speculation.

It is entirely possible however that these small quakes are merely crustal adjustments, with more ice being deposited on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier during the peak of Winter. Slight harmonic tremor has been detected, which could also indicate minor dike intrusion into the caldera, but again, that is speculative.

Also in Iceland there has been an ongoing swarm of earthquakes at the Reykjanes peninsula, occurring near the volcano Hengill, in the Hveragerdi thermal area. These quakes are likely due to geothermal projects in the area, much like what is occurring at Clear Lake in California, at the Geysers geothermal field. Injecting water and chemicals miles deep to interact with superheated rock results in steam and steam pressure coming up to the surface, which in turn power turbines creating electrical and heat energy. Iceland is home to some of the largest and most advanced geothermal energy production plants in the world, with the entire country now using almost completely renewable energy. This does however, come with the trade-off of near constant small quakes. I suppose it is less annoying to Icelanders than it is to Californians, given Iceland's sparse population and the frequency of eruptions and earthquakes in the area.

In any case, the quakes at Reykjanes are likely man-made, however the area is active thermally (obviously), and the last eruption was "only" a thousand years ago. The area lies on the spreading ridge which separates the American and European plate, and will erupt in the future (as with the rest of Iceland's volcanoes that share this rifting system). The rift itself spreads at a rate about the same as a growing fingernail, and has created some of Iceland's most spectacular geological features, such as the famed Thingvallir rift valley, the site of one of the first democratic councils in the world's history (due to its formation, leaders would sit atop a natural "throne" and speak down to their population, with resounding acoustics).

Back to Katla, it will probably have an eruption one of these days, however I want to point out that the mainstream media is hyping this possibility to ridiculous levels. It's not going to be a doomsday scenario, it's not going to be a major disaster as Icelanders are VERY aware of the possibility and likely have plenty of emergency contingencies to prepare for the worst, and the media hype is the direct fault of Eyjafjallajokull, who's ash cloud made some airlines very nervous. The effect, if any, of another ash cloud over Europe this time around will be smaller, as airlines fed up with having to deal with natural occurrences such as eruptions have invented a new system for airplanes to detect airborne ash called A.V.O.I.D. (I think this stands for Automated Volcanic Object Infrared Detector... something along those lines) which combines infrared, GPS, satellite, and air sample data to enable pilots to alter course without putting any aircraft at risk of volcanic ash being sucked into jet engines.

More on this if anything develops.

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