Changes in the eruption at Eyjafjallajökull?

National Geographic film crew near Eyjafjallajökull, April 18, 2010.

UPDATE 1PM EDT 4/19/2010: I can almost categorically say that Hekla is NOT erupting, contrary to Twitter or the brief banner on MSNBC. See my comment below (#68).

In what is sounding like a bit of a broken record, the eruption at Eyjafjallajökull is still going. However, we might be beginning to see some changes in the style of volcanism - even the first suggestion of lava flows at the new crater. As mentioned yesterday, since the eruption became subglacial, we've been seeing eruptions where water - in this case glacial meltwater - has been playing a very important role, creating phreatoplinian or surtseyan style eruptions driven by steam explosions. Although the ash is andesitic, most of the explosiveness of the eruption likely lies with the water. The ash plume at the volcano this morning is smaller than 3,000 meters / 10,000 feet and after watching some of the show that Eyjafjallajökull put on last night, I would venture to say that much of the activity (Icelandic) is strombolian, with explosions (some large) of lava at the vent, throwing incandescent ash and bombs. The explosions are coming from gases escaping from the magma in the conduit and these bombs can travel hundreds of meters - but it is less likely to produce the large ash plumes we have been seeing. All of this implies to me that right now, there is less meltwater entering the crater area. This could change quickly, but this eruption has become a little more like Ruapehu in 1995-96 with abundant small explosions and ash plumes as the andesite erupts.

This change, of course, hasn't helped Europe too much yet. NATO aircraft were damaged yesterday from an encounter with the ash. However, even with this news, limited flights have been allowed throughout Europe starting today. The economic fallout is just beginning to be felt, as British Airways is now asking the EU for compensation for the ash cancellations. However, some economists are saying the true cost of the ash will be fairly limited, at least in the UK. The ash is now affecting airports in eastern Canada as well. The political fallout of the ash might be impressive as well, with the European Commission claiming the ash restrictions were "excessive" and now recommending only restricting airspace within 50 km of Iceland.

I'll post more updates as the day progresses, but even watching the webcam, it appears that Eyjafjallajökull is settled down a bit.

{Big hat tip to all Eruptions readers for the countless comments and links on this eruption - I could never keep up with all the news you are finding!}

UPDATE 1: Those of you who enjoy fiction might like this.

UPDATE 2: I'll likely repost this tomorrow, but a great image of the ash plume from the weekend over on the NASA EO. And here's another from today.

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Eyjafjallajokull erupting on 4/17/2010, image by Marco Fulle. Note the "rooster tails" of ash and steam, typical for Surtseyan eruptions. European airspace has slowly begun to reopen as the explosive eruptions at Eyjafjallajökull have become less intense over the last 24 hours. However, there is…
The eruptive plume from Eyjafjallajökull taken Holsvelli webcam. Image courtesy of Mattias Larsson. Sorry to disappoint everyone visiting to blog while they sit at any number of airports around the world, but the eruption at Eyjafjallajökull appears to still be going strong. The Icelandic Met…
The GÃgjökull outlet glacier on Eyjafjallajökull, showing the steaming lava flow carving its way through the glacier. Image taken May 5, 2010 by Dr. Joseph Licciardi. A quick update on the ongoing activity at Eyjafjallajökull: The activity at the volcano continues to be more explosive during the…
The ash-and-steam plume from Eyjafjallajökull on April 19, 2010. Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland is slowly settling into a pattern of strombolian-to-surtseyan (depending on meltwater access to the crater) explosions that have been sending ash up to 2-5 km above the summit. We can see this new, more…

I wrote to the ISP for Mulakot and asked if donations would help bring the camera back up. They just wrote back to me with:

Afsakaðu. Ãetta er komið à lag

The google tranlsation came out as "Sorry. This is the song"

So I checked an the camera is back online. :)

By Benjamin Franz (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Gack! Ãórólfsfell (MÃla) looks like gunna get blanketed, too. And the surface winds in the are from every direction except perhaps down.

By Reynir Heiðbe… (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Watching the Vodafone cam for several days the level of meltwater has been remarkably constant. Today it seems a little higher.

Is it possible that we are seeing a real sticky magma coming up, creating a lava dome. That later on might explode with huge ash cloud.

It would explain several things on what is going on.

Currently there is a drop in harmonic tremors in Eyjafjallajökull. But it is hard to know how long that is going to last.

Nice footage of lightning in the eruption
just add www.

498: translation is a bit off. It should be more like Afsakaðu. Ãetta er komið à lag- Sorry. It´s OK now.

By Snotra Viking (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Valahnúk and Ãórólfsfelli show a rather thin ash column rising quite steeply to a few hundred meters before being bent by the wind, confirming that the activity is currently relatively weak compared to the previous days. That plus the quite calm seismic activity (practically no earthquakes in the past few days and stable, though gradually waning tremor) and the evident deflation and contraction of the volcano visible from GPS are consistent with what the Icelandic scientists say; the eruption is going through a period of diminished activity.

That does not mean it's over - we all know the last eruption lasted two years (1821-1823), but the previous one may have lasted only three days. So we will have to wait and see. As long as there is geophysical unrest (seismic activity, renewed inflation) there is a good possibility that the eruption will regain in vigor or, if it pauses, that it will resume. What we see in this moment is clearly a diminishing trend in geophysical and volcanic unrest, and unless it reverts, this eruptive episode is doomed.

With little wind to disperse the emitted gases, is it VOG we are seeing on the webcams?

@Henrik: It's hard to tell if it's VOG unless you measure it or you're there (and choking on it). There will be a lot of very fine dust which is easily blown in the wind, so there may be a somewhat permanent haze due to dust. Volcanoes can also put out an awful lot of steam without necessarily putting out noxious quantities of sulfur dioxide, so there's little point in guessing. Sulfur dioxide is also a largely invisible gas; you can find yourself choking in what otherwise appears to be a perfectly clear atmosphere.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

@Scarlet: People just can't be hedgehogged to think about the weather as it is: A part of a great big dynamic system with a lot of chaos factors thrown in. Some folk even demand accountability - as if they think that the UK Met. Office actually *controls* the weather!

By Reynir Heiðbe… (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Just checked the Met. Office site for the forecast for the volcano and surroundings: Slow N-ly winds, turning E, then S with rain in the afternoon, then W tonight. Expect ash fall all around the glacier. N-ly winds tomorrow.

By Reynir Heiðbe… (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

#512 You can see that the smoke column is swing towards the camera at Valahnuk - guessing visibility is going to be pretty poor later on - make the most of the good images now!

By hannahsmetana (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Not surprised. The Road Works weather stations in the immediate vicinity show SSE-SSW winds.

By Reynir Heiðbe… (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

@Reynir Heiðberg Stefánsson but the problem is, when the MET starts thinking that weather is climate (if it's warming) but climate is not weather (if it's cooling), then using the same computer to predict many years in the future when the system is far too complex. When politics mixes with science, it's not good.

It looks like they have done the same to this ash cloud. Don't planes fly in sandy conditions all the time in the middle east? I think the problem is no real measurements were made once again, their super computer worked it all out, but in real life does this really work?

By Scarlet Pumpernickel (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

@Scarlet: Dunno. One may think that whe weather is chaotic, but politics is even more so. Thus, I'm not even gunna take one of my usual wild-assed guesses at this one.

By Reynir Heiðbe… (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

@Scarlet: I believe that flying through ash is quite different from flying through sand. Correct me if i am wrong here but when you fly through ash it actually melts and can cause considerable damage to the engines which can cause a so called flameout.

This does not happen with sand.

Daniel (#517) got the point here. We've had a number of nearly fatal incidents connected to volcanic ash (Galunggung twice in 1982 and Redoubt in 1989 being the most conspicuous examples), but none related to desert sand. So volcanic ash is definitely to be avoided.

I'm gunna describe my wild-assed guesses as just that until I can be bothered to set up a blog where I can disguise them as The Most Holy And Sacred Mother Of All Truths.

And as I understand it, desert sand doesn't melt in a jet engine. Volcanic ash does and clogs it up. If you think a clogged-up child is bad news... well, a clogged-up jet engine is Bad News. It can overheat and seize or explode and throw shrapnel that can easily take an unlucky passenger's life.

By Reynir Heiðbe… (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

"These mist-covered mountains
are home now for me..."

I just looked at the MÃla cams, and couldn't help but think of the first lines of Dire Strait's "Brothers In Arms".

By Reynir Heiðbe… (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

@ Boris, you've stated many times that there is no direct correlation between seismic activity and an eruption. Here at Eyjaf we've just had a textbook case of seismic swarms (starting 1991) forming sills, coming close to eruption (2006 for instance) and then finally leading to an eruption.

I think it is pretty obvious that an eruption/movement of magma/fault propagation etc, will be expressed seismically to some extent. But how can an eruption occur without any seismic activity? Is there such a thing as "stealth" magma?

By bruce stout (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

@ Jon, wow, those shock waves are pretty regular. What do you think is causing them? A flow of water into the crater or gas in the magma?

By bruce stout (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

@Boris re the comment you made on the dormancy of Vesuvius prior to it destroying Pompeii there is another much more current example of very extended dormancy and then a devastating eruption: Chaiten. In Chaiten's case it appears that it was dormant for 9,000 years before the current eruption.

By David Newton (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

@Jón (#520) that's one really spectacular video.

@Bruce (#522) I've stated that there is no direct correlation between the *intensity* of seismic activity and an eruption. If you take the 1976-1977 seismo-volcanic crisis at Guadeloupe (West Indies) as an example, there we had a hell of seismic activity, but the eruption was nothing more than phreatic blasts. And then at Etna in January 1998 and again in December 2009, incredible seismic energy release, no eruption. On the contrary, in 2004-2005 at Etna we had an eruption that was virtually devoid of any seismic activity. Why? Because the magma was nearly totally degassed and reached the surface due to the displacement of a flank of the volcano, which opened a pathway through which the magma could drain passively. But the truth is, the vast majority of all eruptions are related to seismic activity. On the contrary, there is much seismic activity without eruptions or very strong seismicity followed by only very small eruptions.

I would just like to say thank you all for posting here. I never thought i would learn so much in such a short time. thank you Erik for a formidable blog and a big thank you to all the people answering my (stupid) questions..:)

@David Newton (#524) you're right but no one expected Chaitén to erupt, no one said it was "overdue". At Vesuvius eruptions occurred at relatively regular intervals until 1944 and then it stopped, and many people now say it's "overdue". This is why I cited the example of 800 years of repose prior to Pompeii, because we're now at 65 years of repose and thus we may see still up to 700 years without activity until it might really get "overdue".

Hekla is a similar example. Everybody thinks because its latest 4 eruptions occurred at ~10-year intervals, it's due now (last eruption was 10 years ago). But before its huge A.D. 1104 eruption it must have slept for at least 250 years, so it could be very well at the start of a similarly long repose period.

The Shock waves in that great viedo are visible sound waves from the explosions taking place in the crater...
If you watch the flash of bright light in the dust/steam output - you see the waves come from the source of the bright flashes.
Waves are visible due to the humidty and dust particles flexing from the sound hitting them.
Oh great postings!! Have enjoyed them the past few days!

@David #524: I think it has a reason, that volcanoes, that erupted since the last ice age (around 10.000 years ago) are considered as active...

which sort of gets me back to a question I raised earlier:

is there any (rough) correlation between the repose period of a volcano and the evolution of the magmas it erupts?

(I realize this whole issue is complicated by a huge number of factors, so I guess this is a stupid question. I was just thinking of the other volcanoes around Eyjaf and also the amount of evolved magma in Eyaf itself. Is there any correlation between dormancy and explosiveness?)

By bruce stout (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Bruce @ 531 - the short answer is "it depends". The specifics of the magmatic system and underlying source will control what sort of magma you erupt, so it isn't as simple as repose time (usually).

@Bruce Stout (#531), very often a volcano that wakes up after a long repose period does so violently and catastrophically. This is mostly the case when new magma is involved. There are, however, cases of volcanoes that erupt only very weakly and without new magma, even after possibly tens of thousands of years. Ontake in Japan had minor phreatic explosions in late 1979 after at least 10,000 years of repose, Kuju in Japan produced small-scale phreatic activity in 1995 without any historical record of eruptions, and so did Fourpeaked in Alaska in 2005. Such eruptions are now called "failed eruptions" because most probably they were caused by the intrusion of magma, which interacted with groundwater, but the magma then failed to reach the surface. Sometimes that's the end of the story, at least for the time being.

Another factor that influences the vigor of an eruption after a long repose period is the magma composition. If it's basaltic, the eruption will be rather Hawaiian-style. Such an eruption occurred in 1991 on Marchena island in the Galapagos archipelago, where no previous historical eruptions had been known. Same is true for volcanoes such as Savaii, where eruptions in 1902 and 1905-1911 occurred after more than 200 years of repose.

@Boris Behncke, As you know, the worst volcanoes are the ones how have never erupted in historical records. There level of activity depends on many factors, many of them we know nothing about.

Currently there is more steam and ash coming from Eyjafjallajökull. I guess that means maybe a new ash period is starting soon.

@ E&B: I really must applaud you guys for your patience (not to mention your encyclopedic knowledge!!) Thanks!

In the case of Iceland's EVZ where would crystal fractionation be most likely occuring? In shallow magma chambers (which I guess would slowly cool off over a long repose time), deeper magma chambers or even down at the mantle crust boundary? (or is this unlikely owing to the abundance of hot mafic material?)

Cripes, I better force myself off here. I am asking too many questions again. Sorry!! I'll get me coat ;-)

By bruce stout (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

As a curious theoretical guy, I was just wondering if craters - the vent part thing - can travel along with a constant wind, into the direction of the prevailing wind. Nuts I know.
Just I notice that the lee side seems to have risen in the last few days. Which makes sense based on gravitational sorting. Which then means that if the wind blows constantly from the same direction, then the weakest part will be on the windward side of the vent...hence a moving vent.
In other words, the junk gets blown behind strengthening that part and opening up the part on the wind side.
Does that happen? Does it even make sense to anyone but me?
This is really a theoretical question more than anything. I was also wondering if the lee side of the crater would get eaten out underneath more with hot gases etc blasted by the wind on that side, depending on how much lava is splashed there I guess. I also vaguely remember something about acidity changing with temperature in molten metals etc.(I knew I should have paid attention in that lecture.)
And of course assuming near constant winds, which some parts of the world have at times of the year.
Like I said just speculation on vent dynamics - is there even such a topic?

Sorry, your question makes no sense to me, Scott. I understand your logic, but doubt that surface wind is enough to influence fissure surface propagation. Perhaps someone else can answer this it for you.

The ash dispersal pattern is rather unusual in the westward extensional stream that is projected to concentration ash over eastern Canada and the north Atlantic.

@ Scott 536 I get what you are asking. I remember as a teen learning to drive, getting into this huge argument w/ my father over whether the roads are degraded with every passing car. I think it's that kind of question.
For me, looking at some of the recent, awesome, video offerings, I can see the edge of the glacier to the left of the current eruption. Someone posted that the ice has now been covered with ash/ejecta & is now insulated from melting further. It surprises me that the kind of heat which must be present at the site is not working it's way thru that layer & continuing to melt all that (at least nearby) ice. ? Again, thanks to everyone for all the input & discussion.

Kathy @538

I keep thinking of it as "fried ice cream", if you've ever had/heard of it. The "crust" insulates it enough that the sheer volume of cold ice on the interior keeps it mostly frozen, with perhaps a thin layer of mush or fluid on the surface.

It's probably nothing near the actual thermodynamics of what's taking place, but it sounds tasty :)

The view from Valahnuk is getting a bit scary as the wind brings the smoke around toward the camera. I've been watching the snow on the opposite slope turn grey then black. If the wind turns all the way around as it is meant to presumably Rejkjavik will get it and so no-one will be able to get in or out of Iceland.

By hannahsmetana (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

My first post and sorry for being off topic.
I have a slow DSL connection, and have been trying to download and save WMV media linked here, so I can play them offline.
I've tried several methods to no avail.
Has anyone been able to download these for later playback?
All I get is 192 byte "header" type file of text. Example below.

I often read different science blogs as a way to increase my knowledge, though I am by no means a scientist. In fact, I am a social worker, so if what I am about to ask sounds ridiculous, I ask for your understanding.

I read on a science site about a year ago, that earthquakes can increase volcanic activity up to 500 km away from the epicenter of a quake. Now, I know that the quake in Haiti, on the Caribbean plate, is a lot further from Iceland than 500 km. But could the "vibrations" from that quake impact the Iceland Volcano since Iceland sits right on the Atlantic Ridge?

Again, I apologize if this is a stupid question, but my mother always taught me "there are no stupid questions"...Thanks, I have really loved reading many of the comments here. I feel like I am "auditing" a geology course...:) From, An Interested Lurker

By AlwaysOptimistic (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

I often read science blogs as a way to increase my knowledge, but I am by no means a scientist. In fact, I am a social worker, so if please be patient if my question sounds ridiculous to the many knowledgeable people commenting on this site.

I read about a year ago on a science blog that many times when earthquakes occur, volcanic activity can increase up to 500km from the epicenter. Now, I know that the Haiti earthquake, on the Caribbean plate, is a lot further than 500km from Iceland. But is it possible that the "vibrations" from the Haiti quake could impact the volcanoes of Iceland, since that country sits right on top of the Atlantic ridge?

Again, I apologize if this is a "stupid" question, by my mother taught me that there was "no such thing as a stupid question". I have really enjoyed reading and learning from the many who have commented here. I feel like I have been auditing a geology/earth science course. Thank you all.... From, An Interested Lurker

By AlwaysOptimistic (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Sorry for the double post, I did not think the first one had gone through....

By AlwaysOptimistic (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Woot! webcams backup;hrmm guess the Icelandic Tourist Board heard me lol

I dont know,but would think it would have an effect globally however minute.Maybe the "Butterfly Effect" is applicable to plate tectonic mechanics too.
Im sure 1 of the experts will know for sure the answer to Your question :-)

By VulcanEye (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Someone click on this thats familiar with Katla and tell me first which one it is. Second there is obviously a light in the distance to the left, but just below it down in the valley there is a persistent light that keeps popping up. I thought it was snowmobiles but they move around a lot. Its a fairly bright light, and I believe this is an infrared cam or low light

You can click it for full screen and I have been doing captures of the light when it happens. No road there is there?

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

There are rumours emerging that Iceland deliberately engineered the volcanic eruption...

By Ajax Harington (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Lava splashing out at the moment, check the mila webcams, wow!

A friend of mine and I have talked over this specific theme. Your website write-up help resolved our dispute. I will keep reading more content! Many thanks.