Information Meeting Held on Potential Eruption

Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management Iceland

A Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management press conference was held today at 15:00 to report on the current situation on the Reykjanes peninsula.

A state of uncertainty has been declared for the Reykjanes peninsula and there are indications that magma has begun flowing faster to the northwest of Mt. Þorbjörn. An eruption in the area could disrupt power production at Svartsengi power station, the largest supplier of power and water to the Reykjanes peninsula, necessitate the evacuation of Grindavík, and affect operations at the Blue Lagoon.

Kristín Jónsdóttir

Kristín Jónsdóttir, the head of natural hazard monitoring at the Icelandic Met Office, stated that some 1300 earthquakes have been recorded on the Reykjanes peninsula during the most recent phase of activity.

She stated that deformation measurements indicate an increased rate of stress accumulation since Friday, November 3. This deformation is likely due to magma accumulation at a depth of about 5 km. The data suggests a more powerful event than what has been observed in the area before.

Earthquake activity on the Reykjanes peninsula is expected to continue due to increased stress in the area.

Kristín stated that although when and where the next eruption will be is impossible to answer, the most likely eruption sites would be to the west and north of Þorbjörn, a mountain on the Reykjanes peninsula between the town of Grindavík and the Blue Lagoon.

Kristinn Harðarson

Kristinn Harðarson, from HS Orka, stated that an eruption in the area could potentially disrupt operations at Svartsengi power station, a critical power station for the region.

Svartsengi is located in the area where some of the most land rise has been detected recently.

Kristinn stated that the current priority is to ensure the safety of the staff. Contingency plans have been created, escape routes defined, gas metres installed, and more.

Operations at the power station have also been organised in such a way as to minimise the amount of staff working there at any time. 

Kristinn also said that in the event of an evacuation, it will be possible to remotely control the power plant.

Páll Erland

Páll Erland from utility company HS Veitur stated that their well-trained staff are prepared to handle situations like the one currently facing Svartsengi.

HS Veitur provides electricity, water, and heating to customers from the Svartsengi geothermal power plant.

In the event that Svartsengi operations are disrupted, other utility companies have offered to support operations on Reykjanes if necessary.

Backup power generators are also being set up in Grindavík, he stated.

Páll emphasizes that in the case of a severe power outage, people might resort to using electric heaters to heat their homes, which would put a significant strain on the power grid. He also stressed the importance of having a fully charged car, as charging may become impossible in a worst-case scenario.

He identified heating as the most critical issue. Around 30,000 residents rely on the heating utility. In a scenario in which people are left without heat, emergency shelters would be necessary.

Fannar Jónasson

Fannar Jónasson, mayor of Grindavík, stressed that coordination and consultation regarding earthquakes on the Reykjanes Peninsula first started four years ago, when volcanic and seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula resumed.

Fannar stated that although the most recent eruptions have not threatened critical infrastructure, we may now be facing a different situation.

He praised the responders and staff of Grindavík, saying that evacuation plans are in place and that experts are doing their very best to prepare residents for what could happen.

He stated there is some fear among the residents of Grindavík and reiterated the importance of solidarity and cooperation. Diverse groups in society must be considered, such as older people and people of foreign origin, and it must be ensured that all members of the community receive reliable information.

Fannar stated that the current emphasis is on protecting Svartsengi.

Fannar also reiterated that preparations began at the first sign of increased activity on Reykjanes, and that they have had 13 days to prepare so far.

Worst-case scenario

In a Q&A session following the briefing, Víðir Reynisson, Director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management described the worst-case scenario as one in which an eruption would occur near the Svartsengi power station with little to no warning.

Support for Labelling Farmed Salmon

fish farming iceland

The Consumers’ Association of Iceland (Neytendasamtökin) has recently expressed interest in labelling salmon raised in sea pens, following a similar statement from Norway. The interest in labelling follows in the wake of several recent escapes from aquacultural farms in Iceland which have raised environmental concerns. Such labelling would report the health of the salmon at its time of slaughter.

Interest in Norway to Label Farmed Salmon

The medical history of farm-raised salmon may soon find its way onto Norwegian labels.

Inger Lise Blyverket, head of the Consumer Council in Norway, recently stated to Norwegian state broadcaster NRK that she believes “many consumers would welcome a labelling system for salmon.”

Although salmon is marketed as a premium product, there is no indication on the packaging that the fish may have been sick, she stated. Salmon with various diseases such as gill disorders, parasites, and heart diseases are slaughtered and sold in stores. Inger announced that the Consumer Council intends to end this practice and that it is time for the aquaculture industry in Norway to label salmon according to its health at the time of slaughter.

“Both Norwegian salmon producers and other food manufacturers need to realise that consumers want to know more about the production conditions and animal welfare,” Inger said to NRK.

Like Iceland, Norway has also had an ongoing public debate about farm-raised salmon and aquaculture, including recent mass deaths at one of Norway’s largest aquaculture concerns.

Some have pushed back against the recent suggestions, including Jon Arne Grøttum, Aquaculture Director at the Norwegian Seafood Federation. In an interview with NRK, he stressed that because seafood diseases are not transmitted to humans, such labelling would be unnecessary.

“Everything around us is full of bacteria and viruses; they’re everywhere, but that doesn’t necessarily impact food safety,” Jon stated. “I can’t see that it has any purpose. First, it’s not about food safety. Secondly, it is very difficult to implement: you would have to conduct an examination of each fish, even if you know the cause. Thirdly, it’s a bit strange to introduce this type of labelling for salmon and not for other animal meat production.”

Iceland to Follow Norwegian Example?

Given the recent discourse in Norway, the Consumers’ Association of Iceland has also expressed interest in a similar labelling system for farmed fish in Iceland.

Breki Karlsson, the chairperson of the Consumers’ Association, recently stated to RÚV that he supports the initiative. He stated that consumers have the right to receive information about the origin of food, especially salmon, which has been the subject of recent discussions due to recent escapes and lice infestations.

Berglind Harpa Bergsdóttir, a veterinarian specialist monitoring the health and welfare of farmed fish at the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), also stated to RÚV that many diseased fish are slaughtered for human consumption in Iceland. She mentioned a 2021 case of Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA), a viral disease that causes severe anaemia in fish. At that time, a notification was sent out by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority, both about the outbreak and that some of the fish were used for human consumption.

Berglind reiterated that such viral diseases do not transmit to humans.

Read more about aquaculture and fish farming in Iceland.

Reykjanes Earthquakes Continue as Concern for Area Grows

Grindavík - Þorbjörn

Conditions have remained unchanged on the Reykjanes peninsula, where recent seismic activity has raised concerns over a new eruption and its potential impact on infrastructure in the area, including the popular tourist destination the Blue Lagoon.

M4.2 Earthquake Near Blue Lagoon

An M3.6 earthquake was recorded near Þorbjörn this morning, a mountain near the town of Grindavík and the epicentre of the recent seismic activity. Several other smaller quakes were recorded during the night, the strongest of which occurred around midnight.

According to the latest monitoring data from the Icelandic Met Office, the land near Þorbjörn continues to rise at the same rate, and there are no clear signs that the magma is approaching the surface. New models have been used to estimate the location of the magma injection point, and these models do not indicate any significant changes in the magma’s position, which is located at a depth of about 4-5 km northwest of Þorbjörn. As magma accumulation continues, increased seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula can be expected.

All Possibilities to Be Considered

The recent seismic activity around Þorbjörn, which overlooks the Blue Lagoon, has raised some concern about the popular geothermal spa in the event of an eruption.

Þorvaldur Þórðarson, a professor in geology and volcanology at the University of Iceland, stated in a recent interview that though he didn’t want to make any concrete predictions regarding public safety at this moment, all possibilities should be taken into account.

“We can get lava flows that can travel at several kilometres per hour, even up to 20 kilometres per hour,” he stated to Morgunblaðið.

Given such possible speeds, the response time to an eruption could be very short, Þorvaldur continued. If a fissure opens in the Illahraun lava fields, a lava field just over a kilometre from the Blue Lagoon, the response time could only be minutes.

“If we prepare ourselves for when the magma begins to rise, then, of course, we will have more time,” Þorvaldur stated.

Calls to Close Blue Lagoon

Given the uncertain situation, some have called openly for the Blue Lagoon to close its doors.

In an editorial for Vísir, environmental engineer Sveinn Gauti Einarsson recounted the tragic 2019 Whakaari eruption in New Zealand, in which some 22 people lost their lives. The island is a popular tourist destination known for its volcanic activity and an investigation after the eruption found that owners of the island resort and tour operators may not have fully conformed with health and safety regulations in taking visitors to the area.

In his editorial, Sveinn stated: “Near the centre of the current activity lies the Blue Lagoon, a popular bathing spot. The authorities of the Blue Lagoon have been asked in recent days whether it is safe to bathe in the lagoon. There are no clear answers to that question, but they say that sufficient precautions will be taken to evacuate the lagoon in case of an eruption. Now, I’m not a volcanologist, but I’ve been wondering about this statement. There have been eruptions three times in Reykjanes in recent years, and it was never possible to predict the onset of the eruption, and there were no warnings that the eruption was about to start. How is the situation different now? Why do people trust that they can give several hours of warning even though we were’nt able to at Fimmvörðuháls, the Fagradalsfjall eruption, or in New Zealand? Can it be said with full certainty that an eruption cannot occur there without warning? If a powerful eruption occurs under the Blue Lagoon, it would take only a few seconds to 2-3 minutes for the magma to boil all the water in the lagoon. If people are in the lagoon, there is no time for escape. It would be the greatest tragedy in Iceland in recent times and even worse than in New Zealand.”

The Blue Lagoon currently informs visitors on its website of the increased seismic activity.

Three Routes from Grindavík

An evacuation plan by the Civil Protection for the town of Grindavík, the community nearest the likely eruption site, is now in place. Plans include includes three designated evacuation routes out of the town, evacuation routes within the town, and the locations of major facilities and gathering points.

The evacuation plans are available in Icelandic, English, and Polish

According to authorities, residents are encouraged to prepare for the possible evacuation of the town due to earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. Among other things, residents of the area are encouraged to keep the following in mind:

  • All family members should be informed of the plan.
  • Before leaving one’s house, windows should be closed and electronics unplugged. Basic supplies, such as clothing and medicine, should be prepared in an emergency kit.
  • When leaving one’s house, place a visible note or poster on a window or door notifying neighbours and family.
  • Assist others where possible and drive carefully.
  • Those with extra room in their vehicle should consider helping those on foot.
  • The official meeting point for the community will be the Grindavík sports centre.

In the event of an eruption, more information can be had at the Red Cross helpline: 1717.