“The activity is formidable, exciting, and scary.”
Experts are cautioning that a volcanic eruption is possible at any time due to the increasing seismic activity in the past several weeks in Iceland’s southwest Reykjanes Peninsula, which has been characterized by tens of thousands of earthquakes—up to 1,400 in a single 24-hour period. Seismologists at Northwestern University are using an app they created a few years ago called Earthtunes to listen in on the data gathered by the area’s Global Seismographic Network station, even though seismometers are normally used to monitor this kind of activity.
The earthquakes can sound through the app like doors slamming or hail hitting a roof or window. Earthtunes co-developer Suzan van der Lee, a seismologist from Northwestern University, described the action as “terrifying, thrilling, and formidable.” “Iceland evacuated residents from nearby Grindavik and the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi, which was the right thing to do.”
A rising number of disciplines are showing interest in sonification of scientific data. For example, few years ago, a project named LHCSound created a collection of the Higgs boson and top quark jet “sounds,” among other things. In order to enable physicists to “detect” subatomic particles by ear, the project aimed to create sonification as a method for interpreting the data from particle collisions.To generate the “sound” of silk, other scientists have mapped the chemical structure of the proteins in spider silk threads onto musical theory in an attempt to develop a completely new method for producing designer proteins. Additionally, users can construct their own protein “compositions” using the sounds of amino acids by downloading the free Android app Amino Acid Synthesizer.
Researchers have recorded the X-ray echo from a black hole, which is a lower-frequency light corresponding to a lower-pitched sound. Others have created music based on particle physics data used to identify the Higgs boson, magnetometer readings from the Voyager mission, and the sounds of a Martian sunrise (the data was acquired by the Mars Opportunity rover). In August of last year, scientists utilized the “language” of stars to play songs like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter” by converting data on the natural “twinkle” of stars, which is caused by gasses rippling across their surface, into audible sounds. Thus, it is not unexpected that sonification has become popular among seismologists as well.
Iceland is sandwiched between two tectonic plates, separated by an underwater mountain range brimming with magma. Earthquakes occur when the magma pushes through the plates. Large lava fields and little vegetation characterize the Reykjane Peninsula, which is particularly well-known for its prolific volcanism. The luxurious spa close to the “Blue Lagoon,” a geothermal power plant, is the most well-liked tourist destination among the area’s hot springs. Geological records indicate that the area has been largely peaceful for almost 800 years despite the region’s active volcanoes. However, things changed in March 2021 when the Fernandesfjall volcano erupted. Even though it was only a minor eruption, many scientists thought it signaled the beginning of a new era of volcanic activity that would endure for generations.
The expectations have been validated by the notable surge in seismic activity observed recently along the peninsula. According to University of Cambridge volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, “it looks like 2021 kicked off a new eruptive phase which might see the several fault zones crossing the [peninsula] firing on and off for centuries,” Live Science said.
The seismic activity has been continuously observed by the Icelandic Met Office (IMO). They discovered last Friday that rock beneath Grindavik was being forced by magma, which was fracturing rock nine miles (15 kilometers) away, causing homes to be damaged, roads to break, and evacuations to be necessary. According to BBC News, the town has sunk more than three feet (more than one meter) since then and is still falling by roughly 1.6 inches (four cm) per day. For several weeks, lava is predicted to flow from numerous fissures during the low-intensity but yet highly dangerous eruption.
Van der Lee declared, “This degree of danger is unprecedented not only for Iceland as a whole, but also for this area of Iceland.” Although the majority of Icelandic volcanoes erupt far from cities and other infrastructure, the people of Iceland are horribly reminded of an eruption that occurred on the island of Vestmannaeyjar fifty years ago, which resulted in part of the town of Heimaey being engulfed in lava. Just like the Grindavik evacuated citizens do now, the locals felt extremely exposed. The current scenario in the Fagradallsfjall-Svartsengi-Grindavik area has, however, left Icelanders well-prepared, partly because of the eruption of Vestmannaeyjar.