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Massive Volcanic Eruption Is Making Iceland Grow

The tiny, island nation of Iceland is in the middle of a growth spurt. For the past month, the country's Bardarbungavolcano has been churning out lava at a prodigious rate. And the eruption shows no signs of abating.

It all began with a swarm of earthquakes in late August, according to Rikke Pedersen, with the Nordic Volcanological Center at the University of Iceland. Volcanologists watched as the tremors moved north about 25 miles. A fissure opened and lava began pouring forth.

So far, the lava field has covered more than 14 square miles.

Pedersen says the eruption is being caused by the spreading of the Eurasian Plate and the North American Plate, which are moving apart from each other. As the plates spread, magma from Bardarbunga has started flowing into the gap — literally making Iceland expand.

Pedersen says the eruption has produced more lava than any eruption since 1947, and it could soon surpass even that one. "So far, it's only been 20 days," she says.

You can watch the eruption live here and here.

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Corrected: November 11, 2014 at 9:00 PM PST
A previous version of this post quoted a researcher as saying the lava field had covered more than 14 square miles, or an area that "corresponds about to the size of Manhattan." Manhattan is said to be about 24 square miles.
Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.