Iceland Backtracks on Volcano Eruption as Quakes Intensify

Aug 24, 2014 8:52 am ET

(Updates with aviation alert starting in first paragraph.)

Aug. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Iceland retracted an announcement yesterday that the one of the island’s largest volcanoes had erupted and lowered its aviation warning as authorities monitor intensifying earthquakes at the sub-glacial caldera.

“A team of scientists flew over the area yesterday and that revealed that there wasn’t an eruption taking place or any floods coming from the glacier,” Urdur Gunnarsdottir, a spokeswoman for the Civil Protection Agency, said today by phone. “However, there’s a lot of seismic activity in the glacier despite there being no visible signs of an eruption.”

Authorities continued to monitor quakes at the Bardarbunga volcano, which is located underneath Vatnajokull, Europe’s largest glacier. Warnings of an eruption yesterday put airliners on alert amid concerns they may face a repeat of disruptions in 2010 when a cloud belched from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano forced carriers to cancel more than 100,000 flights and caused about $1.7 billion in lost revenue. Ash is a danger to jets because the glass-like particles can hurt engines.

The Icelandic Met Office today lowered its aviation warning to “orange,” after yesterday boosting it to “red,” it said in an e-mailed statement.

“There are no indications that the activity is slowing down, and therefore an eruption can not be excluded,” the Met Office said. “Observations show that a sub-glacial eruption did not occur yesterday. The intense low-frequency seismic signal observed yesterday has therefore other explanations.”

Hundreds of earthquakes have been measured at the volcano since midnight, according to the Met Office. Two tremors of about magnitude 5 were measured in the area early this morning.

“Probably, earthquakes near the Bardarbunga caldera are a consequence of adjustment to changes in pressure because of the flow of magma from under the caldera into the dike, which stretches to Dyngjujokull, more than 25 kilometers away,” the Met Office said. “No signs of tremor, indicative of eruption, were detected during the night.”