Another glacial outburst flood began in Iceland

Glacial flooding, also known as jökulhlaup, began yesterday from the Eastern Skaftárketill reservoir in the Vatnajökull glacier. As a result, an alert was issued by the Department of Civil Defense in the area at noon yesterday.

The glacial flood from the Eastern Skaftárketill Cauldron followed another flood from the western basin, which began on September 2.

Flooding from the eastern basin has not occurred since 2018, and this flooding is expected to be about the same magnitude as that year. The 2015 flood was much larger and caused more damage.

The Jökullaup in the Skafta River originates in a geothermal zone beneath depressions in the ice cap of the Vatnajökull Glacier called Skaftarkatlar. These depressions form when geothermal heat melts the ice. As soon as the ice that has melted and accumulated there reaches a certain level, there is a flash flood.

According to the Icelandic Meteorological Office, in such floods the meltwater first flows 40 km (25 miles) under the ice cap and then 28 km (17 miles) along the Skafta River bed before reaching Mount Sveinstindur. From there, the floodwaters will take about 10 hours to reach the ring road near Asar near Eldvatn.

Björn Oddsson, a geophysicist with the Department of Civil Defense and Emergency Management, said floodwaters are expected to reach the ring road tonight.

He says residents have time to react. “People who live and travel here know exactly where the flooding caused by the Skaft Glacier outfall is happening.” The South Iceland Police Department monitors and directs operations in the area.

Roads in the area may be closed, and large amounts of silt and mud may spread through the area and be blown around by the wind when the area dries out.

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