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South Coast Geologist Has Front Row Seat To Birth Of World's Newest Volcano

(UCSB photo)
A new volcano first began erupting March 20th in Iceland, and a UC Santa Barbara geologist is on hand documenting the event.

A new volcano came to life March 20th in Iceland, and a UC Santa Barbara geologist who had already been studying Iceland’s volcanoes had the rare opportunity to be there from the very beginning.

UCSB Geology Professor Matthew Jackson, his wife, and their two kids have been living in her native Iceland during the last year during the pandemic. He’s been doing his classes via Zoom. It’s also allowed him to pursue his nearly two decade long research of Iceland’s geology.

Speaking to KCLU News from Reykjavik, Jackson says they didn’t know it at the time, but there was a warning that the new volcano might be coming in the form of earthquakes. He says there was about 50,000, some as large as magnitude 5, in the weeks before the eruption.

Jackso says the quakes were so frequent that they weren’t frightening, but annoying to most people. But, he admits no one knew the quakes were in effect announcing the arrival of a new volcano less than 25 miles from the nation’s capital, on the Reykjanes Peninsula.

Then, on March 20th, the eruption began. The geologist says the volcano doesn’t fit the public’s stereotype of what one looks like:

Jackson says while we tend to thank of volcanic eruptions as dangerous, this one is tame enough that the public can go see it.

The UCSB geologist says having such an easily accessible new volcano to observe may help answer some long running questions about Iceland’s natural history. Up until now, much of the research has focused on centuries old rocks.

But, aside from the science, Jackson admits it’s pretty exciting to see the new volcano in action.

The volcano provided a reminder this year that it's not done doing the unexpected. On Monday, steam and lava shot out of a new fissure about a half mile from the original eruption site. It forced the evacuations of some of the volcano’s sightseers. No one was hurt, but it was a reminder that volcanoes can be quite unpredictable.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.