Satellite view of subglacial volcano, Katla, in Iceland

Iceland’s Mýrdalsjökull ice cap (right) conceals the Katla volcano, which can emit thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide a day. Credit: Jesse Allen/Landsat/U.S. Geological Survey

Geophysics

The hidden talent of a dangerous Icelandic volcano

Katla, known for its frequent and explosive eruptions, produces more carbon dioxide than almost any other volcano on Earth.

One of Iceland’s most active volcanoes is puffing surprisingly high levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The Katla volcano, which last erupted in 1918, lies buried beneath a glacier. During research flights near Katla in 2016 and 2017, Evgenia Ilyinskaya at the University of Leeds, UK, and her colleagues detected an invisible gas plume rich in carbon dioxide. The team found that Katla was emitting between 12,000 and 24,000 tonnes of the gas each day — making it one of the biggest volcanic sources of carbon dioxide on the planet.

The gas might be seeping out from magma deep beneath the volcano. More studies are needed to see whether the volcano’s carbon dioxide emissions change throughout the year, and what that might say about future eruptions. Researchers should also check other ice-covered volcanoes to see if they, too, are major carbon dioxide emitters, the scientists say.