Powerful quake at Icelandic volcano, aviation alerted

2014-08-24 10:57
Computer screens show seismic activity from the Bardarbunga volcanic eruption at the Icelandic met office in Reykjavik. (Halldor Kolbeins, AFP)

Computer screens show seismic activity from the Bardarbunga volcanic eruption at the Icelandic met office in Reykjavik. (Halldor Kolbeins, AFP)

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Reykjavik - Icelandic authorities early on Sunday registered the strongest earthquake so far at the Bardarbunga volcano in the south-east, where activity increased a week ago, and maintained a red alert warning for aviation.

The magnitude 5.3 earthquake was the largest seismic activity in the past week, and the largest at Bardarbunga since 1996, geophysicist Gunnar Gudmundsson at the Icelandic Meteorological Office told dpa.

Airspace in an area around the volcano, situated under the Vatnajokull glacier, remained closed. The red alert level designation - issued Saturday - means that an eruption is imminent or ongoing and that "significant emission of ash" into the atmosphere is likely.

Hundreds of earthquakes have been registered during the past week.

Gudmundsson said researchers monitoring the area were uncertain whether an eruption would occur or where magma would surface, if it did.

A surveillance flight over the glacier on Saturday did not reveal any signs of activity at the surface of the glacier, the Met Office said.

Airports remain open.

Authorities have however ordered the evacuation of areas north of the Vatnajokull glacier amid fears that an eruption could melt the glacier, causing severe flooding.

In addition to flooding, ash produced by an eruption of Bardarbunga could also halt air traffic across wide parts of Europe, depending on wind and atmospheric conditions.

A 2010 eruption of a volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier disrupted air travel for several weeks. Tourism to Iceland, which has about 30 active volcanoes, was also affected.

The civil defence authority and police were later on Sunday to reassess the emergency state.

On Saturday, about 200 tourists were evacuated from two areas north of the glacier while inhabitants in three communities were advised to follow the news and keep their mobile phones switched on.

Roads leading to the highlands area in the south-east of the country were closed as a safety measure, and hiking is forbidden.

Read more on:    iceland  |  volcanoes

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