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Iceland's Bardabunga Volcano Update: Tourists Evacuated

August 20, 2014

As concern increases over a possible eruption of Iceland's Bardabunga volcano, authorities have evacuated tourists from area.

A recent swarm of earthquakes near the volcano has seismologists fearing an eruption could happen soon. 

Iceland's Civil Protection Department says 300-500 people, mostly visitors, have been evacuated from the highlands north of the Vatnajokull glacier, which is popular with hikers.

Officials said Wednesday the measure was taken as a safety precaution, the Associated Press reports. Roads in the area have been closed that an eruption would lead to flooding.

Air travel experts are also watching the situation closely. The volcano sits in a major flight path from the U.K. to North America, and an eruption would cause chaos.

In 2010, the ash from a volcanic eruption in Iceland caused major air traffic disruptions that stranded 10 million travelers around the world.

The warnings come after Iceland's Met Office raised the risk level of eruption to orange for Bardabunga, meaning an eruption was possible but not imminent, Live Science reports. It is the fourth on the five-level scale, the report added.

(MORE: Here's Why Evacuation Orders Have Been Issued in California)

The earthquake swarms began suddenly Saturday and have been occurring in rapid succession since then, according to Live Science. The quakes are small – in the 3- to 4-magnitude range – but they're persistent enough to concern scientists about a possible eruption.

Bardabunga is a subglacial stratovolcano located under Iceland's largest glacier, known as Vatnajokull, which adds another layer of intrigue to the situation, the Associated Press reports. If the eruption occurs outside the glacier, scientists expect minor ash emissions and only local problems. However, if the volcano blows inside the glacier, it would trigger ash sent high into the atmosphere and a bad scenario for air travel, seismologist Martin Hensch told the Associated Press.

When a volcano sends ash thousands of feet into the air, it isn't visibility concerns that ground planes, Time.com reports. It's actually the chemicals in the ash that can damage a plane's delicate engines, while the ventilation holes can become clogged and stall the aircraft.

The Associated Press has contributed to this report

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