Iceland is bracing for a massive volcanic eruption that could wipe out an entire town, release toxic fumes and trigger widespread disruption.

The country has ordered evacuations and declared a state of emergency as seismic activity ramps up around the Fagradalsfjall volcano, which is expected to blow in the coming days.

Now, members of the public can listen to what this unnerving rumbling actually sounds like thanks to an app which transforms seismic frequencies into audible pitches.

Earthtunes, which has been developed by Northwestern University, turns the more familiar recording of squiggly lines scratched across a page into something that can instead be heard.

The result is an ‘exciting and scary’ cacophony of noise as the island’s Reykjanes Peninsula is hit by hundreds of earthquakes

On high alert: Iceland is bracing for a massive volcanic eruption that could wipe out an entire town, release toxic fumes and trigger widespread disruption

On high alert: Iceland is bracing for a massive volcanic eruption that could wipe out an entire town, release toxic fumes and trigger widespread disruption 

It is akin to doors slamming, hail pelting against a tin roof or window and people cracking trays of ice cubes, researchers say. 

‘The activity is formidable, exciting and scary,’ said Northwestern seismologist Suzan van der Lee, who co-developed Earthtunes. 

‘Iceland did the right thing by evacuating residents in nearby Grindavik and the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant, one of the world’s oldest geothermal power plants, which was the first to combine electricity generation with hot water for heating in the region.’

There are several audio clips available – two of which have been included in this article – and all are from 24 hours of seismic activity recorded by the Global Seismographic Network station from November 10-11.

It reveals how the activity has intensified around the Fagradalsfjall area.

‘What you’re hearing is 24 hours of seismic data — filled with earthquake signals,’ van der Lee said.

‘The vast majority of these quakes are associated with the magma intrusion into the crust of the Fagradallsfjall-Svartsengi-Grindavik area of the Reykjanes Peninsula.’

Listen in: An audio clip reveals the 'exciting and scary' seismic activity building around the Fagradalsfjall area. It is from the app Earthtunes, which has been developed by Northwestern University

Listen in: An audio clip reveals the ‘exciting and scary’ seismic activity building around the Fagradalsfjall area. It is from the app Earthtunes, which has been developed by Northwestern University

Why the volcano could blow: Iceland is a hotspot for seismic activity because it sits on a tectonic plate boundary called the Mid Atlantic Ridge

Why the volcano could blow: Iceland is a hotspot for seismic activity because it sits on a tectonic plate boundary called the Mid Atlantic Ridge

She explained that the 24 hours of activity had been compressed into around a minute and a half of audio, capturing the ‘unprecedented intensity of earthquakes’. 

‘Icelandic seismologists have been monitoring these quakes and their increasing vigor and changing patterns,’ van der Lee said.

‘They recognised similar patterns to earthquake swarms that preceded the 2021–2023 eruptions of the adjacent Fagradallsfjall volcano.’ 

Around 4,000 people have been forced from their homes in the town of Grindavik due to its proximity to the Fagradalsfjall volcano on the Reykjanes peninsula, while the popular Blue Lagoon tourist attraction has also been closed. 

In the past week, Grindavik has become lined with massive cracks in the land that are billowing out steam — the result of magma moving underground that pushes up on the Earth’s crust. 

The volcano on the Reykjanes peninsula threatens to 'obliterate' the town of Grindavik, around 25 miles southwest of Reykjavik. Its 4,000 residents have been evacuated after a state of emergency was declared

The volcano on the Reykjanes peninsula threatens to ‘obliterate’ the town of Grindavik, around 25 miles southwest of Reykjavik. Its 4,000 residents have been evacuated after a state of emergency was declared

On the brink: In the past week, Grindavik has become lined with massive cracks in the land that are billowing out steam

On the brink: In the past week, Grindavik has become lined with massive cracks in the land that are billowing out steam 

It was evacuated because of the risk of ‘fire fountains’ and noxious gasses, with those living there unsure if they will have anything to return to if the volcano blows. 

Van der Lee says the impending explosion is reminiscent of the 1973 eruption of Heimaey on Iceland’s Vestmannaeyjar archipelago.

‘This level of danger is unprecedented for this area of Iceland, but not for Iceland as a whole,’ she added.

‘While most Icelandic volcanoes erupt away from towns and other infrastructure, Icelanders share the terrible memory of an eruption 50 years ago on the island Vestmannaeyjar, during which lava covered part of that island’s town, Heimaey.

‘The residents felt very vulnerable, as the evacuated people of Grindavik feel now. 

‘In a few days or weeks, they might no longer have their jobs, homes and most possessions, while still having to feed their families and pay their mortgages. 

‘However, partially resulting from that eruption on Vestmannaeyjar, Icelanders are well prepared for the current situation in the Fagradallsfjall-Svartsengi-Grindavik area.’

How a volcanic eruption in 2010 sparked almost a month of chaos for European air travel  

A volcanic eruption in Iceland in 2010 sparked the worst air travel disruption since the Second World War.

Chaos descended within the European travel industry when an unfortunate series of phenomenons combined from a number of relatively small volcanic events at Eyjafjallajokull, on the south side of the island.

Seismic activity had started at the end of 2009 and had intensified up until March 20, when the volcano – which is covered by an ice cap – finally erupted.

The eruption was small – just one out of seven on the scale used to measure eruptions. Globally, it appeared a relatively small event at the time.

But around five days later, scientists began to notice unusual activity. 

They found evidence at magma was flowing from underneath the crust into Eyjafjallajokull’s magma chamber and that pressure stemming from the process caused a huge crustal displacement. 

While the eruption began as an effusive eruption - where lava runs from the volcano along the ground - the volcano then entered an explosive stage on April 14. This time, the explosion was measured as a four on the volcanic scale

While the eruption began as an effusive eruption – where lava runs from the volcano along the ground – the volcano then entered an explosive stage on April 14. This time, the explosion was measured as a four on the volcanic scale

Meanwhile, ice surrounding the volcano started melting and began flooding into the volcano.

This rapid cooling caused the magma to shear into fine and jagged ash particles.  It also increased the volcano’s explosive power.

While the eruption began as an effusive eruption – where lava runs from the volcano along the ground – the volcano then entered an explosive stage on April 14. This time, the explosion was measured as a four on the volcanic scale. 

A huge ash cloud was fired into the air, reaching up to nine kilometres in height. Around 250 million cubic metres of volcanic material was also spewed into the air as a result of the explosion.

To make matters worse, the volcano was directly under a jet stream and the rapid cooling from the ice water gave the volcano enough power to shoot the ash directly into it.

The jet stream was also unusually stable at the time and sent ash particles from the volcano continuously southeast – towards Europe.

From April 14-20, ash from the volcanic eruption covered large areas of Northern Europe.

About 20 countries closed their airspace to commercial jet traffic and it affected approximately 10 million travellers, with nearly 100,000 flights to and from and within Europe cancelled across the six day period.

The Airport Operators Association (AOA) estimated that airports lost £80 million over the six-and-a-half days, while the knock-on disruption lasted for around a month.

In the United Kingdom alone thirteen travel firms collapsed during the summer of 2010. The ash cloud disruption was cited as one of the contributing factors.

A huge ash cloud was fired into the air, reaching up to nine kilometres in height. Around 250 million cubic metres of volcanic material was also spewed into the air as a result of the explosion

A huge ash cloud was fired into the air, reaching up to nine kilometres in height. Around 250 million cubic metres of volcanic material was also spewed into the air as a result of the explosion

Several sports matches were postponed, while Liverpool football club had to travel by coach to Madrid in order to play a match in the Europa League. 

While the travel disruption mostly ran throughout April, volcanic activity continued at Eyjafjallajokull until October, when scientists declared the eruption was over.  

In 2011, a volcano under the Vatnajökull glacier sent thousands of tonnes of ash into the sky in a few days, raising concerns of a repeat of the travel chaos seen across northern Europe. 

Though the explosion was larger than Eyjafjallajokull, the impact was not as wide-spread.

A total of 900 flights (out of 90,000 in Europe) were cancelled as a result of the eruption in the period May 23-25.

In 2014, Bárðarbunga erupted in what was the biggest eruption in Iceland in more than 200 years. However, only local travel was impacted as a result. 

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