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Iceland's biggest volcano is preparing to erupt, an expert has warned, potentially threatening a repeat of travel chaos across Europe.
The 6,590ft tall Bardarbunga volcano has been hit by four huge earthquakes recently, the latest in a series of tremors that have been progressing for the past two years.
Páll Einarsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland, warned that this suggests that pressure is rising in the volcano's magma chamber, meaning an eruption is not too far away.
"The volcano is clearly preparing for its next eruption; that may happen in the next few years," Einarsson said.
Lava flowing out of the Barbardunga volcano. Credit: AFP/Getty Images.
"The earthquakes last week are just the symptoms of this process - they do not cause the volcano to erupt."
The earthquakes, measuring 3.9, 3.2, 4.7 and 4.7 on the Richter scale, struck the caldera region of the volcano last weekend.
Most earthquakes directly beneath a volcano are believed to be caused by the movement of magma placing pressure on the rocks until the rock cracks.
Every time the rock cracks a small earthquake is caused, before the magma seeps into the crack and builds pressure again.
Footage of an active volcano in Iceland. Credit: ViralHog
Dr Simon Day, a volcanologist at University College London, said that the activity could "precede a large explosive eruption and consequent widespread ash fall."
However, he added that that the possibility of Bardarbunga erupting is 'statistically unlikely'.
The Icelandic Met Office has not yet issued a warning about the eruption, although it has listed the volcano's activity levels as 'high'.
The threat posed by Bardarbunga appears like that of the 2010 eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which filled the air with thousands of tonnes of fine mineral ash.
The resultant ash cloud caused mass travel disruption across Europe, stranding more than 10 million air passengers and costing the European economy around £4 billion ($5.3bn).
NASA images show ash billowing from Eyjafjallajökull following its 2010 eruption. Credit: PA
Barbardunga, hidden under the ice cap of the Vatnajökull glacier, is the most active of Iceland's 130 volcanoes and last finished erupting in February 2015.
Its last record-breaking eruption was the strongest of its kind in Europe for nearly two and a half centuries, leaving behind the largest caldera formation ever recorded - essentially a giant sinkhole caused by large volumes of magma being erupted from a chamber beneath the ground.
The eruption emitted lava and ash over the Highlands of Iceland for nearly six months, releasing two cubic kilometres of volcanic material in that period.
Einarsson previously warned in February that three other Icelandic volcanoes - Katla, Hekla and Grimsvön - are also threatening to erupt.
While all four volcanoes are being closely monitored, whether any of them will erupt, when and to what extent is difficult for scientists to predict. Be wary when booking your flights.
Words: Chris Ogden
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