THE BLOG

Birth of a Volcano: The World Watches Iceland

29/08/2014 16:59 BST | Updated 29/10/2014 09:59 GMT

Deep and distant rumbles in the ground from yet another unpronounceable volcano in the icy wastes of one of the largest Ice caps in Europe. 'Bárðarbunga' sounds more like something a martial arts turtle might say, but for the last week or so it has had the world captured.

Bárðarbunga is a big volcano by Iceland standards and its starting to wake up! Where is it? Will it erupt and shut down Europe's airspace? What about the ice flood risks? The news has been rolling out different scenarios. I myself have appeared on a number of live links from SKY to the BBC , lending my two pence worth of input in an unfolding volcanic mystery. This time we have been looking at it from the start, we have followed the tortuous route of magma from deep in the earth to the surface. This is the stuff of James Bond.

Iceland is really the world's largest volcanic island, with many volcanic centres and fissure that scar its landscape and make it a truly mystical place to be. Yet it is the detailed work of many individuals that has allowed us to sit back from the comfort of our armchairs and literally watch magma rising from deep in the earth. WOW! I think it is an amazing technological breakthrough that we are able to do this, but it takes time to set up, many resources to be put in place, and a myriad of scientists and volunteers to collect and sift through the data to report back what is happening. Earth quake swarms beneath the volcano are mapped out in 3D, the ground deformation caused by magma movement is recorded by high resolution GPS. Yes, technologies that not only can it tell you where your car is, they can also show where a volcano is swelling. All of this and a meteorological centre that that reports regularly to the public, a sort of 'Volcano 'Watch', with up to date facts and figures.

Why the great interest? Well in 2010 a volcano erupting under the ice in southern Iceland, shut down airspace for six days, stranded people all over Europe and indeed the world, and was a massive shock to the aviation industry. At the time I reported quite a lot about the crisis, and wrote about it in my Guide to Hot Rocks, again with much help from the Iceland meteorological office and the Nordic Volcanological Centre. We learned so much from that 'crisis', but are we better prepared now? Well surely the answer to that is yes, in the fact that we have been monitoring the activities Bárðarbunga and surrounding area, have issued warnings where needed, evacuated areas at risk of flooding, and constantly interrogated the ground for what might happen. We can't stop these volcanoes from erupting, but we can get a good handle on when and where they will erupt, and react accordingly.

Of course this is not the case for all volcanoes around the world, as many are not as well monitored as those in Iceland. Clearly lessons about how to monitor and report volcanic activities are always learned when new volcanic activity and eruptions occur. As I type this blog, a fissure eruption north of the volcano and the Vatnajökull glacier, has started. This means that we have indeed watched the magma from the deep and witnessed the birth of a volcano in real time. So sit back in your big leather chair, stroke your fluffy white cat, and let's see what Volcano Bárðarbunga gets up to. 'No Mr Bond, I expect you to explode :-)'.