What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Signs of unrest at Iceland's Hekla - but what do the signs mean?

July 6, 2011, 10:03 AM

It seems that our attention is being brought back to Iceland every few months when it comes to volcanism - and this shouldn't be any surprise, the north Atlantic island is one of the most magmatically active places on the planet.

The latest news from Iceland comes from Hekla. The volcano is one of the most active volcanoes on the island, rising almost 1,500 meters over sea level. However, unlike a lot of other Icelandic volcanoes that erupt basaltic magmas, Hekla has a history of more silicic eruptions (namely basaltic andesite or even more silica-rich up to rhyolite) that have deposited tephras across the landscape and produced pyroclastic flows (along with the more typical lava flows). Just skimming over the history of Hekla, it has a past littered with VEI 2-4 eruptions (and as high as VEI 5, including the ~1100 BC "Hekla 3" eruption) over the past few hundred years, including an impressive eruption last in 2000.

So, when any volcano with a volatile history like this shows any signs of unrest, it is newsworthy. It appears that a new GPS system has capture slight changes in the shape of the volcano that betray the movement of magma beneath the surface at the volcano. This has, of course, put the media in a frenzy, especially after the eruption of Grimsvötn this spring. This isn't helped by Dr. Pall Einarsson (likely unfortunate) quote that Hekla is "ready to erupt". At this point, it is unclear what these data suggest about the activity at Hekla - clearly magma is moving at depth, but does this mean an eruption is imminent? As Dr. Einarsson points out, Hekla usually gives little-to-no warning before erupting. The big "however" here is that Hekla has new monitoring equipment, namely this GPS system, so now we can watch every minute change in the volcano, something not possible 10 years ago. Are we seeing the opening signs of a new eruption or is this normal behavior for a volcano with an active magmatic system (which is common in Iceland) between eruptions? That is what we will find out in the coming weeks - and there is a lot of knowledge of the potential hazards (pdf) of a Hekla eruption.

In any case, it should be reassuring to the people of Iceland (and Europe) that many of these Icelandic volcanoes are so closely monitored so we can see these small changes in their behavior. The million dollar question is how we can interpret these volcano monitoring data - is the volcano going to erupt tomorrow, next week, 5 years from now? Unfortunately, we just don't have the experience yet to know what the changes being seen at Hekla mean in terms of the timing of an eruption. Hekla will erupt again, that there is no doubt, but what this new information on the deformation of the volcano mean is still unknown.

UPDATE: Leave it to the Daily Mail to take the Hekla-mongering to its illogical conclusion: "Is an even bigger ash cloud set to blanket our skies? Iceland's most feared volcano 'ready to erupt'" Well, I guess you might say Fox News topped the Daily Mail: "Iceland 'Gateway to Hell' Volcano to Erupt Again, Experts Say." Not only does the headline not name the volcano, but then it is completely vague. Sigh.

If Hekla does actually head towards eruption, you can watch the results on one of the webcams for the volcanoes. Another perk of Icelandic volcanism.

Top left: The aftermath of the 2000 lava flows from Hekla in Iceland.


Signs of unrest at Iceland'...

Newsletter: Share: