Historical accounts of pre-eruption seismicity of Katla, Hekla, Öræfajökull and other volcanoes in Iceland

Páll Einarsson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


— Detecting unusual activity leading to the outbreak of a volcanic eruption is of vital importance for the short-term warning to the local population of an impending eruption. The varied volcano types of Iceland and range of ambient conditions at which eruptions occur offer an unusually wide spectrum of volcanic phenomena and volcanic hazards during the initial phase of eruptions. A recent study of eruptions in Iceland during the last four decades of instrumental observations has revealed that all the eruptions had a detectable precursory seismic activity, that under favourable conditions can be used to issue short-term warnings to the surrounding communities. Considerable documentary data also exist for pre-instrumental times extending several centuries back in time, that can be compared to the instrumental experience. This is true in particular for two of the most active volcanoes, Katla and Hekla, that are sufficiently close to the populated areas of the country. All seven confirmed eruptions of Katla since 1625 were preceded by felt earthquakes, beginning one to nine hours before the eruption was detected and two to over twelve hours before a jökulhlaup from this partly sub-glacial volcano reached the inhabited areas. The behaviour of Hekla is quite different. Large eruptions from the main edifice of Hekla since 1510 were generally accompanied by rather weak seismic activity. Earthquakes are usually felt only minutes before the first explosion occurs, in the 1947 case even several minutes after the first explosion of the volcano. Eruptions of the Hekla volcanic system outside the main edifice are, on the other hand, accompanied by considerable seismic activity, and the precursor times may be more than three hours, even much longer. The two historical eruptions of Öræfajökull, in 1362 and 1727, were apparently preceded by felt seismicity, sufficient to alarm the local population. INTRODUCTION Ever since the settlement of Iceland in the ninth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-52
Number of pages18
Issue number69
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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© 2019, Iceland Glaciological Society. All rights reserved.


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