Lava Flow Slows Down as Gas Pollution Spreads

Volcanic eruption at Sundhnúksgígar

The intensity and size of the volcanic eruption at Sundhnúksgígar on the Reykjanes peninsula has diminished. The lava flow is now estimated to be about one-quarter of what it was when the eruption began just before midnight yesterday and only a third of the original fissure is active.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office has posted an update on the volcanic eruption, based on visual estimates from a reconnaissance flight earlier today. The development of the eruption is similar to the eruption at Fagradalsfjall which began in 2021, where the fissures are starting to contract and form individual eruption vents. Currently there are about five eruption vents spread along the original fissure and the lava fountains are lower than when the eruption began, reaching about 30 meters at their highest.

Pollution noticeable 115 km away

“According to information from scientists who went on a second helicopter flight with the Icelandic Coast Guard at around 04:00 UTC today, the total length of the fissure eruption has not changed much from the beginning,” the notice reads. “There was little activity at the southern end of the fissure near Hagafell, and the majority of the lava flow is heading east towards Fagradalsfjall. Two streams reach west, both north of Stóra-Skógfell.”

At the time of the notice’s publication at 2:30 PM today, the volcanic plume was drifting from west and northwest. “Gas pollution might be noticeable in Vestmannaeyjar today, but not elsewhere in populated areas,” the notice continues, referring to the populated archipelago off the south coast of Iceland, some 115 km from the fissure. “According to the weather forecast, gas pollution might be detected in the capital area late tonight or tomorrow morning.”

More pollution than in previous eruptions

According to a RÚV report, air pollution could be ten times greater than in recent eruptions in the Reykjanes peninsula. The release of sulphur dioxide could be somewhere between 30 and 60 thousand metric tonnes per day. A spike in pollution has already been detected in Selfoss, 68 km east from the fissure and along the coast south of the town of Þorlákshöfn. The amounts in these areas, however, have not reached levels that would endanger public health.

The volcanic eruption in Reykjanes is ongoing. We will continue to update this story as it develops.

Air Traffic Controller Strike Aborted Due to Eruption

Reykjanes eruption Iceland eruption

Industrial action by air traffic controllers planned for tomorrow morning will not take place due to the volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula, Association President Arnar Hjálmsson confirmed with The round of strikes began December 12 and, disrupting morning flights to and from Iceland for airlines Play and Icelandair. The work stoppages continued on December 14 and 18.

The volcanic eruption began shortly before midnight last night, 3 km north of the town of Grindavík.  The eruption has not affected air travel and Keflavík airport remains open, despite its proximity to the site of the eruption.

Flight schedules remain unaffected

According to a press release from Icelandair, the airline’s flight schedule remains unaffected. “The safety of our passengers and staff is always priority number one and all decisions are made with this in mind,” Vísir quotes the release. “We are following the situation closely and will alert passengers in a timely manner if any changes occur to our flight schedule because of the eruption.”

The airline Play has asked passengers to keep a close eye on messages from them regarding possible disruptions. “We do not expect any disruptions to our flight schedule but safety is always our top priority and the situation is being monitored closely by the relevant authorities,” is stated in a notice the airline’s website.

Repeated air traffic controller strikes

Tomorrow’s cancelled action was the last strike planned this year by the Icelandic Air Traffic Controller Association. The collective agreement of air traffic controllers expired on October 1 and negotiations have gone very slowly. This has been the third air traffic controller strike in Iceland in five years. Arnar asserts that the salaries of Iceland’s 152 air traffic controllers have lagged compared to other professions in the industry in recent years. The strike makes exceptions for emergency and coast guard flights.

Eruption Forces Blue Lagoon to Close Two Days After Reopening

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

Popular tourist destination Blue Lagoon reopened Sunday after being temporarily closed for a month due to seismic activity and fears of a volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula. Today, in the wake of last night’s volcanic eruption, Blue Lagoon has announced that it’s closing temporarily again.

“A volcanic eruption commenced in Sundhnúkagígar on the evening of December 18,” reads the announcement on Blue Lagoon’s website. “As a result, we have temporarily closed our facilities in Svartsengi. All guests with confirmed bookings in the upcoming days will be contacted.”

“No indications of magma” over the weekend

Blue Lagoon owes its existence to the natural forces that continue to shape the Reykjanes peninsula. It is situated in a lava field and its water comes from the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant. The spa was closed on November 9, along with its adjoining hotels and restaurant, due to a magma intrusion under the nearby town of Grindavík and a “seismic swarm” of more than 1,000 earthquakes in 24 hours that had dozens of guests fleeing the resort. All 3,800 residents of Grindavík were evacuated and remain away from their homes.

The Guardian reported yesterday on Blue Lagoon’s reopening, a decision management said was made in close collaboration with the authorities. “Experts are meticulously monitoring the situation with real-time analysis. Currently, there are no indications of magma approaching the surface,” the Guardian quoted Blue Lagoon management yesterday . “We are excited to welcome guests back to one of the wonders of the world.” Before the reopening, employees participated in a large-scale safety drill to practise evacuating the area.

No guests on the premises when the eruption started

In an interview with Vísir following last night’s eruption, Blue Lagoon Manager Helga Árnadóttir said that the geothermal bath was already closed for the day by the time the eruption began, shortly after 10 PM. No guests or staff remained on the premises.

Due to its location, the eruption could spare all man-made structures in the area, experts have said, including the town of Grindavík, Blue Lagoon and Svartsengi power plant.

The volcanic eruption in Reykjanes is ongoing. We will continue to update this story as it develops.

Largest Volcanic Eruption in Recent Years

Volcanic eruption on Reykjanes peninsula

The volcanic eruption in the Reykjanes peninsula, which began shortly before midnight Monday night, is the largest one since volcanic activity started up in the area in 2019. Its intensity is already decreasing, however, as evident from seismic and GPS measurements, the Icelandic Meteorological Office has announced. “The fact that the activity is decreasing already is not an indication of how long the eruption will last, but rather that the eruption is reaching a state of equilibrium,” read the 3 AM update. “This development has been observed at the beginning of all eruptions on the Reykjanes Peninsula in recent years.”

The southern end of the fissure is almost 3 km from the edge of the town of Grindavík, whose population of nearly 4,000 people has already been evacuated. The eruptive fissure is about 4 km long, with the northern end just east of Stóra-Skógfell and the southern end just east of Sundhnúk. However, the lava flow is more powerful than in the previous eruption, with more lava already flowing in the first seven hours of this eruption than the entirety of the Litli-Hrútur eruption in the summer of this year.

Lava could spare all man-made structures

The lava is not flowing in the direction of Grindavík, according to scientists who have observed the situation. Volcanologist Ármann Höskuldsson told RÚV that the location of the eruption is favourable, as it could spare all man-made structures. “Tonight everyone can be calm,” he told RÚV around 3 AM. “If everything is normal, the intensity will decrease tomorrow afternoon and the fissure will develop into craters. The eruption could last a week to 10 days.”

In an update with RÚV this morning, Ármann said that if the flow remains powerful, the lava could reach the road to Grindavík. He added that the pollution from the eruption is substantial and could affect vulnerable people in nearby towns, depending on wind direction. In that case, people should close all windows in their homes.

Roads to Grindavík closed

Police have closed all roads to and from Grindavík and asks that people do not attempt to get close to it, as gas fumes could prove dangerous. “Scientists will need a few days to assess the situation and its status is in fact updated every hour,” the Reykjanes Peninsula Police warned. “Passersby are asked to respect the closure and show understanding of the situation.”

Cabinet ministers will meet this morning to assess the situation.  The Icelandic Meteorological Office, civil protection and response units in the area continue to monitor the eruption and a meeting of scientists will be held in the morning to evaluate the overnight development of the eruption.

We will continue to update this story as it develops.