Is Iceland's Dangerous Hekla Volcano About To Explode?

A 20th Century eruption of Hekla caught on camera. Bettmann/Getty Images

Iceland, quite rightly, is famous for its diverse, beautiful, and active volcanoes. Although Eyjafjallajokull’s 2010 eruption led to the most extensive shutdown of European airspace since the Second World War, it isn’t considered to be a particularly dangerous volcano. Hekla, on the other hand, is, and one researcher thinks that it’s about to blow its top any day now.

Páll Einarsson, a professor of geophysics at the University of Iceland, has warned airplanes and people to stay as far away from this stratovolcano as possible. According to his latest readings, strain is accumulating at a higher-than-expected rate at the site, hinting that magma is rising up through the crust and perhaps depositing itself in a very shallow chamber, or even forcing its way up the conduit to the vent at the surface.

Between 1970 and 2000, Hekla erupted once roughly every 10 years. This means that it was releasing the pressure valve on the underlying magma chamber surprisingly frequently; after all, these types of volcanoes are known for their incredibly explosive eruption styles with huge delays between each cataclsymic blast. The longer the period of dormancy, the more powerful the subsequent eruption is likely to be, and unfortunately, based on this cycle, Hekla is six years overdue – it last erupted in the year 2000.

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Hekla today. Johann Helgason/Shutterstock

“Hekla is a very dangerous volcano,” Einarsson told Visit.is. “We could be looking at a major disaster when the next eruption begins if we are not careful. There are 20-30 planes full of passengers flying right over the top of Hekla every day. Hekla is ready at any moment.”

Hekla was long known by European settlers as the “Gateway to Hell,” and for good reason: It has a surprisingly explosive eruption history.

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