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
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
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
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.’