Deep North Episode 34: Where There’s Fire

reykjanes eruption 2023

In this special edition of Deep North, we revisit our 2022 piece on the Fagradalsfjall eruption. Read the original here. Read more about the 2023 Reykjanes eruption here.

The eruptions on the Reykanes peninsula in 2021 and 2022 once again propelled Iceland’s volcanoes into the global consciousness. The last time this happened was in 2010, when Eyjafjallajökull’s ash cloud grounded an estimated 10 million air travellers. By contrast, the latest social media-friendly eruptions, a half-hour drive from the capital, attracted even more tourists to the island’s already strained post-COVID hospitality industry.

Although at any given time there’s a 50/50 chance a volcanic eruption is ongoing in Iceland, the last time the Reykjanes peninsula witnessed an active volcano was in the 12th century. The eruptions were part of a sustained period of volcanic activity that spanned more than 200 years, known to Icelanders as the “Reykjavík Fires.” Could these latest eruptions herald a new era of volcanic activity on the peninsula, near the homes of over two-thirds of Iceland’s population?

Police Drop Blood Mare Investigation

Icelandic horse

Icelandic police have dropped the investigation into the treatment of mares during blood extraction, Bændablaðið reports. The ill-treatment of mares during the practice was first brought to light in 2021 by foreign animal welfare organisations.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) had previously investigated the treatment that appeared in a video that the animal welfare organisations AWF and TBZ published on YouTube in November 2021. MAST requested more information and unedited footage from the animal welfare organisations but did not receive it. A statement released by AWF/TBZ spokespersons in December 2021 said they would not hand over any unedited videos to MAST, but were willing to cooperate if a public investigation took place. MAST therefore referred the case to the police for further investigation at the end of January 2022.

The case was dismissed a year later, or at the end of January 2023, according to information from the South Iceland Police Department. The police repeatedly tried to obtain additional data from the animal protection organisations, which hid behind German laws that did not require them to hand over the data.

However, sources say that the representatives of the animal welfare organisations were in fact willing to hand over the data, but only if a legal request was made, in order to ensure the best evidentiary value of the data. Such a request was, however, never received from Iceland.

Since the 1980s, horse farmers in Iceland have been able to gain extra income by extracting the hormone Equine Chorionic Gonadotropin (eCG) from their pregnant mares. The hormone extracted from pregnant mares is mainly used to boost fertility in other farm animals. Only a handful of countries operate blood farms besides Iceland: Russia, Mongolia, China, Uruguay, and Argentina. Iceland tightened regulations on blood mare farms last year.

A Small Eruption That May Last Long

Almannavarnadeild ríkislögreglustjóra. The eruption on Reykjanes, July 10, 2023

The eruption that began on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula yesterday has already decreased in intensity. This is the third eruption on Reykjanes in three years following a break of some 800 years, and experts say the region has entered a period of increased volcanic activity. Residents of the Reykjanes peninsula and the Reykjavík capital area are encouraged to keep their windows closed today due to gas pollution.

Eruption exactly where expected

An eruption began on the Reykjanes peninsula at 4:40 PM yesterday afternoon following around a week of increased earthquake activity, including an M5.2 earthquake on Sunday night that was felt across the country. The eruption is located between Litli-Hrútur and Mt. Keilir, right where experts had predicted it would break out and just north of the 2021 and 2022 eruption sites.

Civilians asked to stay away

At the moment, the eruption does not threaten roads, infrastructure, or inhabited areas. The risk of gas pollution both at the site and elsewhere in the region is, however, significant. Civilians have been asked to stay away from the eruption site for the time being due to life-threatening conditions. Authorities have also told residents across Southwest Iceland, including the capital area and even as far as the Snæfellsnes peninsula to keep their windows closed due to the pollution.

Activity decreased since yesterday

The eruption is behaving typically for a fissure eruption, according to the Volcano and Natural Hazard Group of South Iceland. Such eruptions tend to be most powerful when they start, due to gas that accumulates high up in the magma intrusion that makes its way to the surface. When the eruption begins, the pressure in the magma tunnel begins to drop and with it the intensity of the eruption. “Now it’s just a question of how long the eruption channel stays open before the eruption ends,” the group wrote.

The eruption can be seen on a live feed below.