Iceland has been a natural lab for studying climate change as its glaciers melt at a rapid clip. About 10% of Iceland’s surface area is covered by about 300 different glaciers. These glaciers are losing about 11 billion tons of ice per year. These changes are damaging habitats and causing sea levels to climb upward. What’s surprising is that the entire island itself is also rising. And that spells trouble.

Researchers from the University of Arizona and the University of Iceland studied data from as far back as 1995. What they found is that the ice melt is accelerating at a faster than expected rate of 1-1/2 inches per year.

Time notes, “The problem is, Iceland isn’t just any island, it’s a highly geologically active one, with a lot of suppressed volcanic anger below the surface. The last thing you want to do in a situation like that is take the lid off the pot.”

One of the researchers stated “As the glaciers melt, the pressure on the underlying rocks decreases. Rocks at very high temperatures may stay in their solid phase if the pressure is high enough. As you reduce the pressure, you effectively lower the melting temperature.” The result, a softer and more molten subsurface, which increases the amount of eruptive material lying around. This situation makes it easier for more deeply buried magma chambers to escape confinement and blow through the surface.

” ‘High heat content at lower pressure creates an environment prone to melting these rising mantle rocks, which provides magma to the volcanic systems,’ says Arizona geoscientist Richard Bennett, another co-author.”

In 2010, Europe experienced what it’s like for a week. The volcanic caldera under the Eyjafjallajökull ice cap in southern Iceland blew its top. It erupting for three weeks – from late March to mid-April – spreading ash across vast swaths of Europe. Europe had most commercial flights shutdown for a week.

At the current rate, researchers predict, the uplift rate in parts of Iceland will rise to 1.57 in. per year and liberate more calderas. This will lead to one Eyjafjallajökull-scale blow every seven years.

“The Earth, we are learning yet again, demands respect. Mess with it and there’s no end to the problems you create.”