Iceland has witnessed a volcanic eruption in the southwest, raising concerns about its impact on an evacuated town, a power plant, and a significant tourist destination. Lava, surging to nearly 100 meters in height from a substantial fissure, poses potential threats to the surrounding area.
The eruption commenced close to Grindavik, a town that was vacated due to intense seismic activity earlier in November. Situated on the Reykjanes Peninsula, about 40 kilometers southwest of the capital, the volcanic outburst began on Monday night at 10:17 p.m. local time. Despite this significant development, the main international airport, Keflavik, has reported no disruptions to its arrivals or departures.
According to Thor Thordarson, a professor specializing in volcanology and petrology at the University of Iceland, the ongoing eruption is an effusive lava-producing event within a two-to-three kilometer fissure north of Grindavik. The lava fountains have reached heights exceeding 100 meters, indicating a considerable discharge in contrast to prior eruptions in the region.
The Reykjanes Peninsula had remained dormant for nearly 800 years until seismic activity in early 2020, leading to surface magma in 2021, followed by eruptions in August 2022 and July this year. Previous lava flows from these eruptions were fissure-based, producing no ash and occurring farther away from populated areas and critical infrastructure. However, eruptions extending into the sea can become explosive, potentially generating ash that could disrupt air travel.
While the current eruption may not significantly affect air traffic, its impact on local communities and infrastructure, including Grindavik, the Blue Lagoon, and the Svartsengi power plant, could be substantial. In 2010, Eyjafjallajokull’s volcanic eruption caused a massive ash cloud, disrupting air traffic across Europe for weeks. However, recent changes in air regulations could potentially mitigate such widespread disruptions.
Iceland, known for its geothermal activity due to its location on the mid-Atlantic ridge, houses numerous volcanic systems and hot springs. Despite frequent volcanic activities, the scale of threat to inhabited areas hasn’t been experienced since a 1973 eruption buried part of a town in the Westman Islands under lava.
The current eruption’s proximity to the Blue Lagoon, a prime tourist spot, and the Svartsengi power plant, which supplies heat to around 30,000 inhabitants and businesses, raises concerns about potential repercussions. Thor Thordarson expressed concern, noting that Grindavik faces significant risks due to the eruption’s unfortunate location.