Earthquakes in Katla volcano, strong sulphur smell in Múlakvísl river before the earthquake happened

This morning there has been some earthquake activity in Katla volcano. But it has also been reported in the news this morning that a really strong sulphur smell was found around 06:00 UTC on nearby farm to Múlakvísl river this morning. But this was before the earthquake did happen. I am not sure if this sulphur smell continues to be felt in the area close to Katla volcano. No changes in water hight has been detected in Múlakvísl glacier river.

The ML2.6 earthquake in Katla volcano was on 2.3 km depth. This was mostly a dike intrusion into the bedrock of the Katla volcano caldera.

The earthquake swarm this morning in Katla volcano. Copyright of this picture belongs to Iceland Met Office.

High resolution of the Katla volcano earthquake this morning. Along with correct depth and size. This picture is released under Creative Commons licence. See Licence page for more details.

As before. This is just a wait and see what is going to happen in Katla volcano as before.

Icelandic News of the sulphur smell in Múlakvísl glacier river.

Brennisteinslykt fannst við Múlakvísl í morgun (Ví, Icelandic)
Brennisteinslykt við Múlakvísl (, Icelandic)

Update 1: According the news on Rúv this activity suggests that hydrothermal activity is continuing to increase in Katla volcano caldera. But the news also says that this activity is something like that did happen from the year 2002 to the year 2004, when hydrothermal activity did increase before it started to get lower again. It is also pointed out my Matthew Roberts that Múlakvísl glacier river is sensitive to changes in Mýrdalsjökull glacier and small floods can happen without any warning in it due to increased hydrothermal activity.

Rúv news in Icelandic about this.

Bendir til aukinnar jarðhitavirkni (Rú, Icelandic)

Blog post updated at 13:07 UTC, 23 September 2011.

123 Replies to “Earthquakes in Katla volcano, strong sulphur smell in Múlakvísl river before the earthquake happened”

  1. Can I ask something really stupid? What is the sulfur smell coming from? Is it the magma? Gas? How is that smell made?

    1. Dihydrogensulfid smells like rotten eggs – thats by far the best description. Its a gas, which is contained in the magma and set free, when magma rises. Its the typical smell of geothermal areas.

    2. The gas is also highly toxic.. Concentration of several 100 ppm can already be deadly. So you have to be carefull when you smell it 😛

      1. As long as you smell it, you are on the safe side. It gets dangerous, when the concentration gets so high, that you don’t smell it any more. You are able to smell incredibly small concentrations.

      2. Didn’t know that.. I assume you dont mean that you dont smell it anymore because you are dead 😛 Think you mean that your nose gets saturated more or less?


      3. Yes, you get kind of saturated. If you are subjected to slowly rising concentrations, this is really really dangerous.

      4. High concetrations imidiatly numbs the olfactory organ. So, if you walk into a room with a high concentration you will just feel the smell for fractions of a second before you loose your smell totally.

  2. from Jon’s
    ?massive continental drift?
    good Giggle:

    No growth was Múlakvísl this morning. / Jonas Erlendsson
    Strong sulfur odor was Múlakvísl which runs from Mýrdalsjökull this morning. It says Jonas Erlendsson, farmer Fagridalur, but he lives about three kilometers from the Nile. No growth is in a river.

    Fairly sharp earthquake, 2.8 on the scale, occurred in Mýrdalsjökull this morning. The epicenter was about 5 km east-northeast of Goðabungu. It is considerably north of sigkatlana the researchers saw in the summer.

    Jonas has been well monitored Múlakvísl in recent years and he says it to happen to that found sulfur smell from the river, but it is not common. The smell of breakfast was very strong and felt well bæjarhlaðinu.

    Automatic water meter service indicates that no change has occurred in the levels of Múlakvísl this morning.

    1. Should have been quite a strong smell then if he lives 3km from the Nile. 😉

      “The smell of breakfast was very strong” Haha priceless.. 😀

      Google translate. For those bored in the afternoon. 😉

      1. I took 6 month and it looks normal. I can see the spikes from July when the bridge has broken.

      1. Haha, I saw that, but I tried to get in there on my sony ericsson from 2009, so that can explain why I didn’t get it 😛

      1. Can I ask why? 😛 Don’t u have a family or something? 😛 Sorry for questions, just curious 😛

      1. In some dark corner, my brain thinks the higher the temperature the lower the solubility of gas in water, so what in the name of aromatic Icelandic breakfasts makes engineers think one can pump super-carbonated water into a volcano and not have an immediate explosive degassing!!

      2. Well, seems a bit stronger than the last swarms. Looks like there was just a 3.7 off the Reykjanes peninsula, low quality though.

      3. Alan, yepp, simple laws of physics dictate that. What they are doing is really crazy. They should be doing that experimentation a hell of a way from people. Krafla would have been a much better choice then Hengill for safety reasons.
        Because whatever they are telling the icelandic people, they do not have a clue what they are doing. They are testing real dark arts pumping here.

      4. True, but the higher the pressure the higher the solubility of CO2 in water. You have to consider both sides of the curve, not just temperature or pressure.
        And above 7.4 MPa then CO2 out of solution is actually supercritical fluid not gas (or solid depending on temperature). I don’t know exactly what pressure and temperature is in the rocks they are pumping the water and CO2 into though.

      5. In Germany is a discussion about that and today they decided:

        Vote in the Bundesrat
        Bundesrat rejects CO2 storage

        “Carbon dioxide from power plants and industrial facilities in the future will not be stored underground in Germany in a big way. The Federal Council rejected a push corresponding laws that would allow it, the first test, to store in a former gas storage.”
        …and we have no active volcanos…

      6. But Germany has dormant volcanoes. Arguably Germany is home to potentially the most dangerous volcano in Europe – Laacher See :/

  3. There are some strong earthquakes appearing on my geophones. Both at Heklubyggð and in Hvammstangi. They all seems to be coming form Hengill area where they are pumping down water.

  4. Winter is coming, we should see a reduction in activity but still with ocasional swarms. I guess if the swarms continue to increase during the winter then we are very likely on the path for an eruption next year, otherwise there is still hope that Katla will continue its restless sleep for a few more years, like it did after the activity in 2002.

    1. Irpsit:
      Do you have your “run like hell bag” packed?
      This time it is much much worse then the last time, and it is following the fissure line down towards where you live.

  5. Can fracking cause an earthquake as strong as a 3.0? I’m not really familiar with fracking.

    1. Not normal fracking.
      They are pumping supercarbonated water down straight next to a themral anomaly (magma-reservoir) so that it quite literally detonates into super-critical steam (dry steam) with the added explosivity of the CO2… Basically they are setting of hundreds of large mining blasts next to the core of a volcano. This is not anything close to as safe as normal fracking.

      1. We tried fracking in a granite quarry years ago in Cornwall at c2.5km, basically detonate a charge in the hole, inject HP water with propping agents to keep fractures open;hopefully the fracs naturally then self extend through the rock and so on. It worked quite well.
        Rosemannowes Quarry, Hot dry rock project.

        Oh ‘ell captcha – off ketija

      2. Hydraulic fracturing has been implicated in some M4+ earthquakes in Texas and other natural gas producing areas. I don’t know that the link has been proven or if it’s just a theory.

    1. OK, something messed up there according to the timestamp:

      23.09.2011 06:57:20 63.661 -19.168 1.1 km 3.2 90.05 4.7 km ENE of Goðabunga

      1. Is this really one of the quakes Jon were blogging this morning?! They upgraded it to +3.0?

      2. No it is correct, they have been checking and re-checking that one all day. I think they are arguing how the hell they should recalculate that one. Every time they do a shift change they recalc it.
        I think they really want it super-precise since it might actually have done something nasty since we have sulphuric smell at Mulakvisl. (Would almost be Mule-pimple in Swedish).

  6. 4.6 23 Sep 15:26:34 63.3 274.1 km WSW of Eldeyjarboði
    3.8 23 Sep 15:01:15 45.0 207.2 km W of Eldeyjarboði

    Uh Huh!

  7. This event was probably degasing from magma close to surface (how close I don’t know, but I reckon around 1-2km). Magma was pushing upwards, and released some gas that escape before the earthquake. As things rearranged due to the release of gas, the 3.2 earthquake happened.

    This shows how close we are to an eruption! We have been detecting inflation, earthquake swarms, tremor, increased geothermal heat, and sulphur smell. Magma is probably very close to surface. An eruption can happen at any time now, the only sign missing the major earthquakes which will happen a few hours before the eruption. But if magma keeps this slow path to surface, then maybe, magma might make the area above ductile, and no earthquakes bigger than 3 will occur before the eruption.

    But this does not mean an eruption must follow. So, please disregard my idea of how close we are to an eruption. The magma might degas, and slowly cool down, like it has been doing for decades. We miss the trigger; I reckon there has to be a threshold when too much magma pushed upwards and then the whole thing cannot hold anymore. But for that we need to start seeing earthquakes much more deep, a sign that magma is filling again the chamber, from the depths, and this extra pressure will not be able to hold for much longer. And this is something that we have not seen yet. But don’t regard the chamber as an empty space, magma below the surface is filling a whole network of cracks and fissures, but there has to be a push from underneath so we can say we are close to a major eruption. We are not at the moment.

    1. I agree with you that we know probably are even closer to an eruption, but we still lack the heavy longterm swarming necessary for the break-through.

      Now we just had a heavy harmonic tremor spike to at Katla.

    2. Continuing my train of thought, I think however that even without that extra pressure that would trigger a major eruption, magma can still reach surface. When that happens, it will be in form of a very small fissure eruption, something that probably does not break through the glacier, but causes a minor flood. This is probably what happened in July this year, and back in 1955 and 1999.

      If we think about the ice cap above Katla, I think it is like Grimsvotn. There is a whole pack of ice, which in some places does not touch the ground, but instead forms a cavity between the heated ground and the thick ice above. If magma erupts, it is efusive, the lava fountain will melt a lot of that ice above due to the extra heat, and so a flood will follow, and cauldrons will form.

      Now, my 1 million dollar question. What if this keeps happening, a lot of magma comes out, and a big chunck of the glacier above, sooner or later might collapse, no? This would touch the hot ground and could cause a bigger eruption, no? Or I am dreaming too much? I am not an expert in volcanology.

      1. In the US they call it a ‘bug out bag’ 🙂 to include cash, passposrt, birth and marriage certs and essential bank stuff along with water and a supply of any essential any meds. Hope it won’t be needed….

      2. No Carl, I do the Icelandic way: I improvise when time comes, and I don’t worry when it comes to volcanoes. Like Icelanders, I do enjoy volcanoes. But of course, I don’t wish any large eruption. Katla, would only be a danger for me, if it would erupt a VEI6 or VEI7. The only thing I will get it will be ash and some darkness if winds blows this way. Like it happened with Grimsvotn.

        Hengill, yes, its a big problem, if it erupts, considering they are triggering that. An explosive eruption would be bad enough because I am only 20km away!!, but Reykjavik is only 10km from it! It would be a disaster for Iceland! The guys pumping the carbonated water are either very confident and informed or damn stupid!

        But I don’t keep a run like hell bag. We are used to hurricane winter storms, volcanoes erupting every year (I only live here since last year), earthquakes, solar storms, saturday night parties.

        And what have you meant a fissure opening in direction where I live? Did you refer to Hengill? The worry is the eruption there would happen because of the proximity to the lake!

    3. I look at the GPS and don’t see any meaningful, significnt inflation. Compared to the GPS charts for Eyja pre-eruption, nothing is inflating much at Katla. (But I do some small trends indicating that inflation may be beginning.)

      1. Ahem… Look at Enta and Aust, they have been steadily inflating for a long time now. And it is the second wave of inflation to boot.
        Difference is that Eyja had a rapid filling due to it having a sill-system compared to the magma-reservoirs (yes plural) of Katla. Katla can hold a heck of a lot more magma and because of that the rate of inflation is slower.

  8. Haha, really confused here, my father talked to me about an eruption in Iceland that might have been in the 70’s, that covered Reykjavik in ash, and people died from it..

    So I started to look it up, but couldn’t find anything,,, But then I saw all the earthquakes thats been happening around Iceland the last hours, and I got quit:P

    But anyway, does anyone here know what eruption my father is talking about?

    1. Yeah, he is most likely talking about the szenario that was developed by a scientist of the University of Leeds. He looked for the effects that the Laki Eruption of 1783 would have today.
      Iceland is a safe place in terms of volcanic eruptions: Since 1947 only two people died through volcanoes. One was a geologist, which came to close to the 1947 eruption of Hekla the other one was a drug addict who tried to steal medication from the basement of a pharmacy in Heimaey during the eruption 1973. He died from suffocating CO2.

      1. Ok, but was it any eruption that covered Reykjavik in ash, though? Cause he remembers this from the news!

      2. Not that covered, but with the right conditions there could have been a couple that at least dropped just a little ash.
        I guess that it was a Hekla eruption in the 70s that he remembers.
        But one thing I am certain of, there where no casualties except maybe due to odd circumstances like the Heimaey drug-addict.
        Regarding death and icelandic volcanos. There was actually an idiot that died from Eyjas eruption, he tried to drive to it and the car got stuck in a crevass and he froze to death…

      3. Even more stupid: They went to see the eruption in a beginning storm. The conditions were so worse, that no helicopter from the coast guard could get out for SAR operations. When you know that these guys usually fly under allmost all conditions, you know what was going on.
        The turned into the wrong direction (deeper into the highlands), ran finally out of gas and then did their final mistake: Leave the car.

    1. Yes I know I haven’t felt anything. I live close to Selfoss. But probably I was not paying attention. At that time I was with many people around taking coffee.

      But have you guys saw the photo I took yesterday: there was a huge steam column above Hengill, very very unusual. And I was commenting that it was strange that this huge drillhole steam was without any earthquakes.

      1. I was up in Hengill yesterday. This borehole seems to be pretty new – and for some reasons I don’t know they blow off a lot of steam in the first time. There is actually quite some activity on the whole area, but since it rained quite a lot before this might be connected. More water is going into the mountain -> more steam is coming up.

    1. My few, depends on how close Hengill is already, I think it would be a special set of unusal events to set it off, said that, what they are doing now, seems abit dangerous to me. Maybe if they hit a Dyke in the area that was forming or different type of rock or a gas pocket? But i am just guessing.

      1. You know that this is a IDDP project? Ie, that they have drilled down next to the magma-reservoir, the same as they did at Kraflavirkjun.
        So, they are at the fissure close to the reservoir, so all it takes is a bit to much fracturing and then they have built a man-made volcano without involving Berlusconi…

      2. Sardina will never be the same again. The fire brigde was onsite at his villa, most of the night. Only in Italy!! well Sardina is different.

      3. Looking at the spread of quakes surely some alarm bells should be ringing somewhere by now amongst people in a position to demand that they halt this experiment NOW?

  9. @Irpsit:
    My two cents of speculation:
    We have indeed had some deep earthquakes, but in the Basar region.
    Now, if we go back to the Eyjaf-Katla connection debate, couldn’t the “push” you are talking about be originated there and the magma proceeded and has been stored in Godabunga’s cryptodome?
    Just a hunch… 🙂

    1. You have to realize that this chart has now a very compressed X axis, showing more than 3 weeks of time, however.

    1. There is a more updated version of that which was given in Chile this year.
      The last three slides are kind of interesting. I have quoted Ernie Meyer on the work at the Geysers in California where he has said that the largest quake they have seen there was a 4.6, and that “there has never been a damaging geothermal earthquake anywhere in the world.”


    1. But it’s green energy. Everything is okay if it’s green.

      In Arkansas they shut down water injection that wasn’t even being used for hydrofracking because they got a swarm in a non-volcanic area. The difference is that it was being used for evil hydrocarbon.

      Hydrofrack a volcano and triple junction? Nah, nothing wrong with that.


      1. Humorous.

        But there is real data in those slides. Useful data to someone like me. It’s got temperature gradients and the density of the overburden in it. That’s handy.


  10. This is off the current topic. There is a site called Knovel that has excellent technical information for engineering. Of interest, they offer some free texts (registration is required) which I believe will be of interest. I do not have any affiliation with Knovel; I just find it to be a good reference source.

    1. There was also considerable tremor at the time the swarm happened at Hengill. But only high frequency, so no magmatic signature, only geothermal related.

      1. Well, seeing this steam cloud of Hengill from my own house is eerily similar to the eruption cloud of Grimsvotn in May. But Hengill is 10x closer, so I assume the cloud is about 10x smaller (Grimsvotn was reaching 20km high, so the steam from Hengill was reaching about 2km upwards yesterday – but it was also a very calm day with little wind, so its naturally for the stem to go straight up).

        Anyways, the amount of steam released is beyond comparison to the other hot springs in the Hengill area. It is so huge it can be clearly seen from here and from Reykjavik. And sometimes the steam comes darker color too.

        Because Hengill is so close, I cannot imagine how an eruption would look like from here, only 20km away. A lava fountain would be a spectacle of a lifetime, an ash eruption would be too close. Of course, it worries me, because Hengill is the closest active volcano to where I live (except for the very tiny Grimsnes volcano, which is only 5km away)

  11. (reply to thread on IDPP project as captcha has thrown me) Has this been mentioned in the media outside of Iceland? I can’t say I’ve seen anything at all and the media love anything they can hype. I can’t say I feel confident having read some of the recent comments-this blog doesn’t do ‘doom.’

    As an observation on the quakes which I have been following at IMO but not in any detail. I can’t tell if they are more frequent or changes in depth but they do seem to be getting larger the longer this project has gone on.

    I’ve missed a few posts lately, so sorry if this has been done, but has anyone done the lovely graphs for this to see what’s going on here (and Lady K)? Well it gives us an idea at least.

    I was walking down the road the other day and passed a van running fibre optic cable down the sewers and the operator had loads of screens showing what was going on under my feet. The data the guys have in this project must be really fascinating, regardless of the sanity of the project.

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