Earlier this week, Pall Einarsson, an Icelandic geophysicist, was interviewed by Icelandic broadcaster RUV about a series of earthquakes in that country's highlands. The interview, conducted in Icelandic, was then translated and used by Britain's Daily Telegraph, among other foreign media outlets. And, as in a game of telephone, Einarsson's words were transformed from "These minor earthquakes are nothing unusual" to something equivalent to, "Grab your children and run, a volcano is about to go mega-boom!"
"It is really strange how this news came into existence. I wasn't even warning of a likely eruption at Bárdarbunga" when giving the interview, Einarsson told IceNews Feb. 10, two days after he was quoted as saying there was good reason to worry. "The things I emphasized in my interview with RUV's Bjorn Malmqvist were that the earthquakes at Bárdarbunga and Kistufell last week are not unusual; there are often movements there, and sometimes much bigger than this."
According to IceNews, Bárdarbunga is located near the middle of the Icelandic "hot belt." Scientists didn't recognize it as a particularly powerful volcano, however, until 1971, when the first satellite images of the area were released. Eruptions connected to this particular volcanic system took place in 1477-80, shortly after 1700, in 1862-4 and most recently in 1996.
"In the long term, we can see an increase in earthquake intensity at Bárdarbunga. But it is still a lot less than between 1974 and 1996," Einarsson said.
He added, "Bárdarbunga is an active volcano and could of course prove dangerous, which is why there is always reason to monitor it closely ; which is why we do."
Einarsson reiterated his confusion today at such reports and noted that volcanic eruptions are always possible in Iceland there have been at least 19 in the past 40 years but the majority are small and cause very little damage.