Reykjanes Eruption: Giant Gas Bubbles Linked to Fluctuating Activity

Eldgos - Geldingadalir - Reykjanes - hraun

A new crater has formed at the ongoing eruption on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula. Professor of Volcanology Þorvaldur Þórðarson told RÚV the new crater appears to be independent from the older active crater. The eruption has been active for nearly five months now and Þorvaldur says it is forming a wide range of lava types, including one he called “toothpaste tube lava.”

Magma chamber at least 15km deep

“Now there seems to be a new crater just outside this crater that has been erupting for the past few months, which we call Crater 5. Whether it is completely connected to this tunnel that feeds the eruption or whether it is a protrusion from the lava pond that is in the crater is not possible to say at this stage. But this seems to be an independent crater that behaves independently, or somewhat independently, of the big one next to it,” Þorvaldur stated.

Experts know little about the magma chamber feeding the eruption, according to Þorvaldur. “We know the magma chamber is there. How wide it is and how long it is, that’s hard to say. But we also know something else, that it reaches all the way down to a depth of 15km [9.3mi], possibly even 17km [10.6mi].”

Cause of fluctuating activity unknown

Lava flowing from the eruption’s craters has reached temperatures of up to 1,240°C [2,264°F], according to a thermometer at the site. Þorvaldur says it has formed all the different types of basalt lava that are known to volcanologists [on land], including smooth pāhoehoe lava as well as rough, jagged ʻaʻā lava (both terms originate in the Hawaiian language), and something he calls “toothpaste tube lava.” Two main factors affect what type of formation results as the lava dries: its viscosity, and the shape of the landscape it flows over.

Since late June, volcanic activity at the eruption site has been fluctuating between active and inactive periods lasting hours or days at a time. Þorvaldur says experts do not know why the eruption is behaving this way but it is connected to the formation of giant gas bubbles. “We get fresh magma coming up. It releases gas into the bubbles and the bubbles expand. We’re talking about bubbles that are 10-20 metres in diameter when they come up. There aren’t just one or two bubbles. There’s a stream of them. That’s what keeps the magma jet activity going in these cycles […] The big question for us is: why is this happening?”

Experts have stated there is no way of knowing how long the eruption will last: it could end at any moment or continue for years or decades.

Read more on the 2021 Reykjanes eruption from Iceland Review Magazine: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Foreign Ministry Helping Icelanders Leave Afghanistan

Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson.

Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs is working to help two Icelandic couples and their children leave Afghanistan. They number nine people and are located in the country’s capital Kabul, which was recently taken over by Taliban forces. The Foreign Ministry has also been in contact with two other Icelandic nationals who worked for NATO agencies in Afghanistan, according to a notice on the Ministry’s Facebook page.

“One of the two Icelandic nationals who have worked for NATO agencies in Afghanistan has arrived in the United Arab Emirates safe and sound,” the notice reads. “The other is still working in Kabul and will leave the country with other Allied personnel. Iceland’s permanent NATO committee is in regular contact with the man. In addition to these individuals, the Foreign Ministry’s civil service is now aware of nine other Icelandic citizens who are in Kabul. They are two couples and their children. The civil service is in communication with other Nordic civil service organisations about the possibility of the families leaving the country together with other Nordic citizens.”

Read More: Iceland Must Shoulder Responsibility, Prime Minister Says

“The foreign service is in direct contact with the people, is closely monitoring developments, and provides assistance as much as possible. No further information will be provided at this time,” the notice concludes.

New Regulations May Bar Non-Infectious Residents from Boarding Commercial Flights

Keflavík Airport

Icelanders, or those who have connections to Iceland, who are fully vaccinated could find it difficult to return to the country if they become infected with COVID-19 while travelling abroad. PCR tests may detect genetic material from the virus long after individuals have recovered, which may preclude them from boarding commercial flights to Iceland. “The authorities in Denmark were speechless over the Icelandic regulations,” an Icelandic woman, who was stranded in Denmark for over a week, stated.

Could be made to wait up to two months

New regulations passed by the Minister of Health provides that passengers must submit a negative PCR test before boarding a flight to Iceland. As reported by Fréttablaðið, the regulations do not, however, include a clause concerning individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 but who nonetheless test positive on PCR tests.

As noted by a recent paper on the phenomenon, “genetic sequences from the RNA virus SARS-CoV-2 can integrate into the genome of the host cell through a process called reverse transcription. These sections of the genome can then be ‘read’ into RNAs, which could potentially be picked up by a PCR test.” Thus, Icelanders, or those with connections to Iceland, who become infected abroad could be made to wait for up to six months before they are allowed back onto commercial flights for Iceland – even if they’ve completed mandatory quarantine and are no longer infectious.

Speaking to Fréttablaðið this morning, Runólfur Pálsson, head of the COVID outpatient centre at the National University Hospital in Iceland, recalled that this was “a big issue” during the summer of 2020 when the borders were reopened before vaccinations began. “Individuals who had previously been infected were testing positive upon arrival. We had to assess whether this was an active infection or an older one, and we did this by testing for antibodies.”

“If this is done by measuring the amount of virus, it becomes quite complicated.” According to Runólfur, such an approach leaves testers in a “hopeless situation,” for it is difficult to assess whether the person is contagious or whether they are still carrying a trace of the virus’ DNA in their respiratory tract from a previous infection but are no longer contagious. Runólfur pointed out that such individuals are allowed re-entry into society after quarantining, even though there is the possibility that they won’t be allowed onto commercial flights headed to Iceland. The Icelandic Constitution declares that “an Icelandic citizen cannot be barred from entering Iceland nor expelled there from.”

Given a COVID health pass in Denmark but not allowed to return

Nanna Þórdís Árnadóttir, a kindergarten teacher from Reykjavík, flew to Denmark with her husband and two children on July 17. Two days after arriving, Nanna tested positive for COVID-19. Having quarantined for over two weeks (Nanna’s two daughters later tested positive), the family extended their stay but planned on returning last week. However, a positive PCR test precluded them from boarding a commercial flight to Iceland:

“The COVID staff in Denmark were speechless over the Icelandic regulations. I’d been issued a COVID health pass from the Danish authorities because I was no longer infectious, but I was not allowed to board a commercial flight to Iceland.”

Nanna reached out to Iceland’s Ministry of Health, which pointed her in the direction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “They said that there was nothing they could do. Everyone was real friendly but they had no advice at all. And so I spoke to the COVID staff in Iceland who said that I would need to fly home in an air ambulance.”

Fortunately, Nanna took another PCR test yesterday and received a negative result this morning. “You can imagine how little I slept while waiting for the results last night … although we love staying here, the feeling of visiting Denmark when one is stuck and can’t return home is quite different. What happens if we need to extend our stay by a week? A month? We’ve needed to look for a place to stay, to consider work, finances; it’s proven quite costly for us.”

The family will be returning to Iceland tomorrow.

No Country for Old Mosquitoes

The Faroe Islands. The Orkney Islands. Jan Mayen. Iceland. These are some of the few places in the world where you won’t find mosquitoes. You sometimes hear that Iceland is the only country in the world utterly devoid of mosquitoes. That’s technically correct as the Faroe Islands are part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Icelanders often savour victories based on technicalities the most. But the mosquito-free paradise could be coming to an end. Surprisingly, the bug fauna in Iceland is more abundant and more diverse than people believe.

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