Iceland – Bárðarbunga Volcano Update

For the last three weeks I have been agonising over the decision of wether to fly back to Iceland to photograph the volcano that is currently erupting north of the Vatnajökull ice-cap, before I head south to South Georgia Island and Antarctica. The volcanic fissure eruption in Holuhraun (north of Vatnajökull) has been going on now for more than a month. Unfortunately this eruption started only a few days after I had to leave Iceland to lead my Greenland expedition (trip report coming soon). I had camped out with my friend and fellow photographer Antony in the hopes we would be in the ideal location when the eruption began; but as luck would have it we missed it by just a few days – ce la vie.

Currently the area around the eruption site is closed to all ground traffic due to significant venting of poisonous gas and it is therefore impossible to get anywhere near the fissure site and the lava being ejected. Just to give some insight into the scale of this eruption – to date the amount of magma ejected exceeds 50 square kilometres and it is showing no signs of slowing down. All of the surrounding roads are closed due to both the risk of poisonous gas as well as possible flooding from the nearby Bárðarbunga volcano should it also erupt. Things are further complicated by the early arrival of winter snowfall in the north and very high winds and Autumn storms. Any photography would be restricted to aerials only (and that is assuming a viable weather window) and whilst it would be better than nothing it is not my preference to photograph an eruption from the air. I would much prefer to be on terra-firma and to be able to use slow shutter speeds for more creative imagery.

Ultimately, it would be a huge gamble at this point that would cost many thousands of dollars including planes and helicopters. The probability for failure is extremely high for any sort of image making other than documentary (and even that is currently in doubt). All of this is further complicated by expedition commitments I have in South Georgia and Antarctica in less than three weeks time. Which is why I have had to make the very hard decision this evening not to fly to Iceland tomorrow for this volcanic event. This decision was doubly difficult for me as I also missed the Eyjafjallajökull eruption by days and have been waiting for the next eruption with the intention of jumping on the next plane to Iceland to photograph it. For now I am going to have to enjoy the  live web cam on the fissure eruption which can be viewed HERE.WebCam ImageThe final complication is the Bárðarbunga volcano itself. This volcano resides under the Vatnajökull glacier and is the real danger and the big unknown at this point in time. At approximately ten times the size of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano it has incredibly destructive potential should it erupt. I want to emphasise this point – Bárðarbunga is a monumental Force of Nature the likes of which we have not witnessed in recent times. The sheer volume of ash that will be ejected into the atmosphere should it explosively erupt is very likely to cause significant airline disruption for many months and significant fall-out across the Northern Hempisphere. The sheer destructive potential of this volcano should not be in any way be underestimated. At this point in time the glacier is subsiding over Bárðarbunga which points to the possibility of an eruption in the near future. As to exactly when this may occur is an unknown at this point. Earthquakes are ongoing in the area which is being heavily monitored.

The best way to stay up-to-date with the current news is to follow the Icelandic meteorological site www.vedur.is. Scientists are reporting that Iceland has entered a state of increased volcanic activity. There is therefore a high likelihood that the eruption will still be ongoing when I head to Iceland for my annual winter workshop in February next year. Should that be the case we will certainly be taking advantage of any weather window and access to photograph it. Until then the volcano is best enjoyed from the safety of the office and the webcam.

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