John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
NASA satellites capture the fiery action inside Iceland's lava-gusher.
You wouldn't generally want to be looking down into a volcano, as that is the traditional vantage point of an imminent human sacrifice—at least in cartoons. But thanks to NASA, we now can stare at the fiery maw of Iceland's spewing Bardarbunga, and the view is incandescently impressive.
Bardarbunga began erupting last week after shaking the earth with a prolonged "quake swarm." The big fear of airline companies and travelers—that the volcano would send a massive cloud of flight-disrupting ash into the atmosphere—hasn't been realized, but the scene on the ground is hellish, to judge from this webcam footage from last night:
While fire and lava is a'poppin' all over Bardarbunga, good aerial footage of the event has been hard to come by, due to technological limitations and cloud cover. In the past few days, however, NASA satellites have managed to capture images of what's happening at the volcano's burbling source. First, there's this false-color shot from Sunday showing a source of intense heat and a smoke plume (the image uses both infrared and visible light):
The space agency also managed to get a high-resolution peek closer to the action on Sunday:
What exactly are you looking at here? NASA writes:
The image [above] is a composite of a natural-color observation from August 27 overlaid with an infrared (IR) night view from September 1. The night view combines shortwave IR, near IR, and red wavelengths (bands 9-7-5) to tease out the hottest areas within the vent and lava field. The image shows at least a 1-kilometer fissure and lava flowing in channels. The front of the flow has been moving mostly to the northeast in recent days. (Download the large images to see the day and night views separately.)
The volcano is still emitting hundreds of earthquakes and has barfed out a lava field measuring nearly 3 square miles, according to the Iceland Met Office. Scientists say it's possible Bardarbunga could produce more lava, "explosive activity," and regional flooding, although by the Met's estimation there's also the chance there'll be a "gradual reduction in seismic activity and no further eruptions."