It's an exciting time for volcano-watchers — and an unnerving time for anyone who lives near a rumbling volcano.
The Icelandic volcano gets most of the attention — but that's been a brief, largely harmless eruption so far. Meanwhile, the eruption in Papua New Guinea is far more explosive and has the potential to do more damage to nearby population centers. Here's a rundown and some photos:
Iceland's Bárðarbunga finally erupts — for a brief while
On the night of Thursday, August 28, Iceland's Bárðarbunga volcanic system finally started erupting, as lava emerged from a fissure in the Holuhraun lava field. The eruption came after weeks of earthquakes in the region.
The eruption only lasted about four hours and was finished by around 2:40 am Iceland time, but webcam monitors picked some of the action in the dark. The screengrab below was snagged by volcano expert Erik Klemetti (whose blog is very much worth reading):
Here's a photo of the 0.6-kilometer-long fissure in the morning taken by scientists on an overflight. There's still gas coming out of the ground, but no lava:
So far, this eruption hasn't been much of a danger to anyone. This wasn't a big explosive event — it was a fissure eruption, in which lava essentially flows up through vents in the ground spread out over a larger area. The eruption didn't spew ash into the atmosphere and didn't disrupt flights. And it's in a relatively remote area of Iceland.
By Friday morning, the Icelandic Meteorological Office had put Bárðarbunga on "orange" alert and the nearby Askja volcano on "yellow" alert. Neither are erupting, but Icelandic scientists are watching the volcanoes closely, especially since earthquakes continue to rumble — a sign that magma is on the move.
There are a few possible concerns here with a bigger eruption: An explosive event could throw lots of fine ash up into the atmosphere and disrupt flights around the northern Atlantic. Alternatively, an eruption that occurs under the massive Dyngjujökull glacier could melt lots of ice and lead to flooding in the region. So far, however, the impacts have been minimal.
Papua New Guinea's Rabaul volcano has a huge eruption
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in Papua New Guinea, the large Rabaul volcano began erupting on August 29, with smoke and ash spewing out of Mount Tavurvur on East New Britain Island.
And a few more:
You can find a more extensive photo gallery of the eruption here.
The Rabaul volcano is one of the most active in Papua New Guinea, and has the potential to cause considerably more damage — particularly to the nearby town of Rabaul, with some 4,000 people. The area near the eruption has already been evacuated, and other residents have been warned to stay indoors.
In the meantime, the ash churned up by the current eruption may disrupt flights in the area — Australia's Qantas airlines is already rerouting some of its planes. And the volcanic ash has been devastating crops and gardens when it lands.
As Klemetti points out on Twitter, "Rabaul is a caldera [with] much more of a history of violent, explosive eruptions. Not saying it will be bad, but hazard threat is much higher." You can read his informative 2008 profile of Rabaul here.
There are plenty of excellent sources on Twitter to follow all the volcano action. Erik Klemetti and Ben Edwards are both volcano experts worth following. Journalist Alexandra Witze has been covering volcanoes for a long time. And Gisli Olafsson has had some of the best up-to-the-minute updates on Iceland's volcanic activity.
Also, here's a list of all the other active volcanoes that are erupting right now. (Many of the eruptions are small or remote, but they still count.)