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Icelandic Volcano Is Erupting Spectacularly (And Relatively Quietly)

The eruption, currently spewing lava fountains, could go on for a year

1 kilometer (0.62 mile)-long fissure in Iceland's Holuhraun lava field on August 29 (STRINGER/Reuters/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

A volcano in Iceland is erupting—and may continue erupting for over a year. But unlike the Eyjafjalljökull eruption of 2010, this one isn’t likely to cause the same kind of headline-grabbing travel delays. 

After weeks of rumbling around the volcano Bárðarbunga, an eruption started late last week in the nearby lava field of Holuhraun, an area to the north of Bárðarbunga. Lava fountains spewed from a fissure over a kilometer long, and at the start of the eruption an estimated 1,000 cubic meters (3,531 cubic feet) of lava poured out of the fissure every second. To put that amount in perspective, Erik Klemetti at Wired compared it to “half the flow rate of Niagara Falls." (New estimates put the flow rate at a somewhat less dramatic 250 cubic meters or so per second.) The spouting lava fountains have reached heights of over 650 feet, and the growing area of lava is estimated to cover around 1.5 square miles.   

Though visuals of the lava fountains and the lava field are spectacular and dramatic, this eruption is relatively calm—no ash has been reported. There have been some preliminary reports of small explosions near the field, but scientists are still trying to figure out exactly what caused them. Though air travel is not affected by the eruption, some roads around the area of eruption are still closed, and authorities are still worried about flooding if the eruption should shift to underneath a nearby glacier. 

The eruption seems to be going strong, and experts are saying it could last for months, if not an entire year. For some stunning pictures of the eruption, check out the work of Icelandic photographer Einar Gudmann. For other up-close and personal views, take a look at University of Cambridge Professor Simon Redfern’s Twitter page: he's currently in Iceland observing the eruption. If you’d like to observe the volcano yourself, there are also live feeds of the eruption online. 

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