Exploring Earthquakes and Eruptions in Iceland
Visit us at the a free public event, in London. Along with 21 other groups, we will be exhibiting our cutting edge research on earthquakes in volcanic systems, with hands-on interactive activities for everyone! Find out more below...
The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition - 2016 Exhibit
Brought to you by our kind supporters and volunteers
Tiny earthquakes are often detected under volcanoes prior to eruption, caused by the movement of molten rock beneath the surface. By studying these seismic events, we hope to be able to predict volcanic activity better in the future. Our exhibit showcases current research in the explosive field of volcano seismology, investigating the 30,000 earthquakes that led up to a spectacular six-month eruption in Iceland. Check out the video below to see how the earthquakes tracked the progress of the molten rock as it moved away from the volcano.
Hands-on activities for you to try...
- Simulate a volcanic eruption with our interactive model
- Make your own earthquake with our seismometer jumping activity
- Try your hand at our earthquake location reaction time game
- Take a look at some lava and ash from real eruptions
- Find out if the Bárðarbunga lava flow was big enough to cover your town with our lava flow game
Monitoring volcanic regions in Iceland is important because eruptions are frequent and the impacts are wide-ranging. Explosive eruptions under ice can cause rapid and destructive flooding of inhabited areas downstream, and can propel huge ash clouds into the atmosphere, disrupting air travel around the globe. Gentle eruptions, producing large lava flows, can release millions of tonnes of harmful gases. Studying earthquakes helps in understanding the physical processes that occur in volcanic systems, such as molten rock intruding through the Earth's crust or collapse of the centre of a volcano. The more we understand about the behaviour of these systems, the better we can forecast eruptions. Our studies also provide an analogue of fracking, highlighting the potential seismic side effects of geological engineering.
What happens when a volcano erupts, and what kind of hazards accompany it? Turn the dial on our eruption model to see where the molten rock (magma) erupts, and what type of eruption occurs...
Molten rock can erupt from a volcano itself or can travel underground great distances away from the volcano before erupting at the surface, as happened in the 2014 Bárðarbunga eruption in Iceland. Molten rock travelled underground (7km deep) nearly 50km away from the volcano before erupting! We tracked the movement of the magma underground by monitoring the 30,000 tiny earthquakes that were produced as the molten rock fractured its way through the Earth's crust.
Jump to make an earthquake, recorded by our sensitive seismometer, and get a picture of your earthquake to take home! See how big a magnitude you can make...how big will it be compared to volcanic earthquakes? Or the big ones you hear about on the news? Find out if you can make the biggest earthquake of everyone who visits the exhibit - see where you rank on the leader board compared to other visitors!
Volcanic earthquakes are very tiny (normally only magnitude 2-3), much smaller than the devastating ones that are reported on the news (magnitude 6-8). The earthquake magnitude scale is logarithmic, so a magnitude 5 isn't 5 times bigger than a magnitude 1... in fact a magnitude 5 releases about a million times more energy than a magnitude 1! Check out the magnitude calculator to do more comparisons. So volcanic earthquakes are very very small... Come to the exhibit to find out what magnitude a human jump is...
Earthquakes shake the ground and we can measure how much it shakes, but how do we know where the earthquake happened? Play our earthquake wave arrival reaction time game to find out how accurately you can locate an earthquake!
When an earthquake occurs the energy released travels away from the earthquake source in all directions as (seismic) waves, like ripples on a pond. Instruments called seismometers measure ground motion, so the arrival of earthquake waves - a sudden shaking of the ground - can be detected and recorded. By seeing how long it took the earthquake waves to arrive at seismometers in different locations it is possible to calculate where all the energy came from and where the earthquake occured.
Take a look at some rocks that are much younger than you! Featuring lava from the 2014 Bárðarbunga eruption and volcanic ash from the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption.
The Bárðarbunga and Eyjafjallajökull volcanoes both sit underneath large glaciers in Iceland. While Eyjafjallajökull erupted directly under this massive amount of ice, Bárðarbunga erupted nearly 50km away from the volcano and did not interact with the glacier. This means that the volcanoes had very different styles of eruption. The Bárðarbunga eruption produced "fire fountains" where runny fluid lava fountained up to 150m in the air (higher than big ben!) before flowing gently away like a river. In the Eyjafjallajökull eruption molten rock came directly into contact with the overlying glacier. This magma-ice interaction results in instant melting and evaporation of the ice to steam, and cooling and shattering of the hot molten rock, making a violently explosive eruption with lots of ash. Come and see some of the Eyjafjallajökull ash and the Bárðarbunga lava for yourself!
The 2014 Bárðarbunga eruption produced 1.6 cubic km of lava that covered 84 square km of land. Exactly how big an area is that? Is it big enough to cover the whole of your home town? Type in your post code to find out how much of your town would have been obliterated by the lava flow! (as demonstrated in the video below)
Try it at the exhibit or have a go right now by clicking on the link ***here***
Our lovely demonstrators who will be there to answer all you questions about earthquakes and volcanoes!
- Stephen Hicks and Hannah Peters
And the sponsors who made the exhibit possible: