A tidal wave may hit Vestmannaeyjar archipelago off South Iceland, in case a volcanic eruption in Katla causes a flash flood from Mýrdalsjökull glacier. The scenario was discussed at a meeting in Vestmannaeyjar on Wednesday evening.
Vestmannaeyjar Chief of Police Páley Borgþórsdóttir organized the meeting, which Sigrún Karlsdóttir, director of natural hazards at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, and volcanologist Ármann Höskuldsson from the University of Iceland attended.
“We have known for some time that among the consequences of eruptions in Katla are tidal waves along the south coast. Their origin isn’t quite clear but we will definitely find out in the next eruption,” Ármann stated on Síðdegisútvarpið radio program yesterday.
“Sometimes [the tidal waves] are large and in the worst-case scenarios they have caused damages all the way to Grindavík [230 km; 143 mi to the west]. In 1918 there was big splash with waves washing up on Vestmannaeyjar,” Ármann continued.
“It’s important for a big and important fishing town like here in Vestmannaeyjar that people are prepared. The town’s largest industrial area is down by the harbor which would naturally be affected by a tidal wave.”
Ármann believes there would be time for evacuation. “What we know about Katla is that usually the plume extends from the glacier before the flash floods occur. And judging by the accounts, the tidal waves occur after the flash floods have reached the shore.”
“When a plume is sighted, it’s safer for people to move to a higher ground for a few hours while waiting to see whether the tidal wave will happen. And get the ships out of the harbor,” Ármann concluded.
The necessity to establish more earthquake monitors in Vestmannaeyjar was also discussed at the meeting.
Katla last erupted in 1918 and scientists are monitoring the volcano closely.
The town Vík is located at the south coast just a few kilometers from Mýrdalsjökull and would almost certainly be hit by a flash flood from the glacier. Vestmannaeyjar lies approximately 50 km to the west of Vík in a straight line.