Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula Likely to Erupt Again Soon

svartsengi power plant reykjanes

Magma is collecting below Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula again and experts say another eruption could happen at any time. The land by Svartsengi has now risen more than it did before last month’s eruption. The speed of uplift has also increased again, after slowing down last week.

Magma chamber refilling

Following two months of earthquakes and land deformation, Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula experienced a short but powerful eruption from December 18 to December 21. According to Benedikt Ófeigsson, Coordinator of Deformation Observation at the Icelandic Met Office, the magma chamber beneath Svartsengi has now replenished 75% of the magma expelled by the December eruption.

These developments indicate that another eruption is on the way, Benedikt told RÚV.  The most likely location is the Sundhnúkur Crater Row, between Stóra-Skógfell and Hagafell mountains. According to Benedikt, the eruption could begin there “at any time.”

Blue Lagoon remains open

An overnight evacuation order remains in effect for the nearby town of Grindavík (pop. 3,600). The town was evacuated on November 10 due to powerful earthquakes that damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure in and around the community.

The nearby Blue Lagoon was reopened to visitors on Saturday. Benedikt says an eruption is not likely to occur in the area around the lagoon. “So even if an eruption begins, there will most likely be plenty of time to evacuate people.”

The Reykjanes peninsula, the location of Keflavík International Airport and a stone’s throw from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, has entered a period of increased volcanic activity that could last hundreds of years. The four eruptions that have occurred on the peninsula since 2021 have not impacted infrastructure or flights. The earthquakes and deformation preceding the December 2023 eruption, which caused damage in and around Grindavík.

No Red Weather Warnings in Iceland in 2023

weather warning map

No red weather alerts were issued in Iceland last year. The year’s weather was relatively calm, at least when considering the number of weather warnings issued. The total number of warnings issued by the Icelandic Met Office was 311, which is slightly below average. Of those warnings, 280 were yellow weather warnings and 31 were orange weather warnings.

Weather fluctuates between years

The numbers are significantly lower than in 2022, when 456 weather warnings were issued: 372 yellow, 74 orange, and ten red. When data from the past six years is compared, it is clear that the number of weather warnings fluctuates considerably between years. In 2020, just 235 weather warnings were issued, while in 2020, the total number of weather warnings was 531.

Last year’s weather warnings were fairly evenly distributed across the country’s regions, with around 25-35 warnings issued for each region. The capital area and East Iceland received just 15 and 18 weather warnings respectively, however.

Most warnings due to wind

Most of the weather warnings issued in 2023 were due to strong winds, although warnings were also issued due to rain, snow, and rapid thawing (known to cause flooding). Yellow weather warnings indicate a high probability of poor weather with limited societal impact, while red weather warnings indicate that the weather conditions will have a significant impact on society.

Pitch Tents Outside Parliament in Protest

No Borders Iceland / Facebook. Palestinian protesters camp outside Iceland's parliament

Local activists slept in tents in front of the Icelandic Parliament on Saturday night in solidarity with Palestinian protesters who have camped there since December 27. They criticise Icelandic authorities for not doing more to bring residents of Gaza who already hold Icelandic visas to the country.

“We won’t stop or back down until our demands are met,” Askur Hrafn Hannesson, one of the Icelandic activists who slept outside Parliament this weekend told RÚV. He says over 40 people joined the group of Palestinians who have been camping outside Alþingi for nearly two weeks.

Asking to be reunited with family members in Gaza

Most of the Palestinian protesters have family members who have been granted residence visas in Iceland on the basis of family reunification but are still stuck in Gaza. The group is calling on Icelandic authorities to do more to retrieve their family members from the strip, where over 30,000 people have been killed by Israeli attacks since October 7 and conditions are life-threatening.

While Icelandic authorities say the Rafah border crossing between Palestine and Egypt is closed, a statement from the group of protestors points out that countries such as the UK, Canada, Germany, Norway, and Sweden received refugees from Gaza in December.

Three demands to Icelandic authorities

The group has made three demands of Icelandic authorities. Firstly, to carry out the family reunifications for which they have already granted visas. Secondly, a meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market. Thirdly, to stop the ongoing deportations of Palestinian people in Iceland and grant them international protection.

Since October 7, protests and solidarity actions in support of Palestine have been held in Iceland regularly, with the next scheduled for tomorrow at 9:00 AM outside the cabinet meeting at Tjarnargata 32.

What do we know about the December 2023 eruption near Grindavík, Iceland?

Reykjanes eruption Iceland eruption

An eruption began on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula on December 18, 2023 at 10:17 PM. As of the morning of December 21, there was no visible activity at the eruption site, and the eruption has now been declared officially over. The eruption site is near Sýlingafell mountain, some 3km [1.9mi] away from the town of Grindavík. It did not impact air traffic or threaten infrastructure.

The Department of Civil Protection declared an emergency phase due to the eruption. Roads to Grindavík are closed to the public and authorities asked civilians to stay away from the eruption for their own safety and the safety of others.

 

More powerful than recent eruptions in Iceland

The December eruption was the fourth in three years on the Reykjanes peninsula. It began much more powerfully than the previous three eruptions in the same area, however. The eruption produced more lava in its first seven hours than all of the lava produced by the Litli-Hrútur eruption earlier this year.

The Sýlingafell eruption is a fissure eruption, with the southern end of the fissure some 3km [1.9mi] northeast of Grindavík, whose 3,600 residents have been evacuated since November 10. The eruptive fissure is nearly 4km [2.5mi] long, with the northeast end just east of Stóra-Skógfell mountain. Lava did not flow in the direction of Grindavík, and the flow weakened rapidly once the eruption had begun and did not impact any infrastructure. The map below shows the location of the eruption fissure in relation to Grindavík, the Blue Lagoon, and Svartsengi Power Plant.

Reykjanes eruption Iceland eruption
Icelandic Met Office. The approximate location of the eruption fissure in relation to Grindavík, the Blue Lagoon, and Svartsengi Power Station

 

Iceland eruption preceded by earthquake swarm

The eruption was preceded by an earthquake swarm that began around 9:00 PM, just over an hour before lava broke the surface. For more on the seismic events that preceded the eruption, read this article.

 

Resources

In addition to following our news coverage on the earthquakes and eruptions on Reykjanes, readers may find the following resources useful:

The Icelandic Met Office

SafeTravel, for travel warnings and tips for staying safe.

The Icelandic Road Administration and its live map of road closures throughout Iceland.

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

Iceland Review magazine published a photo series on the evacuation of Grindavík.

This article will be updated regularly.

What’s the situation on the Reykjanes peninsula? Is there going to be another eruption?

Reykjanes Svartsengi power plant

Update: An eruption began on the Reykjanes peninsula on December 18, 2023 at 10:17 PM and ended around December 21. The eruption site is near Sýlingafell, some 3km [1.9mi] away from Grindavík. More information on the December 2023 eruption. The article below describes the lead-up to that eruption.

 

It has been a time of upheaval for the Southwest Iceland town of Grindavík (pop. 3,600), which was evacuated on November 10 amid powerful seismic activity. Earthquakes and the formation of a magma dike under the town have opened crevasses and damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure in and around Grindavík.

As of early December, it appears that magma has stopped flowing into the dike and experts say an eruption is considered less likely. However, they warn that the seismic events could repeat over the coming months, with magma flowing into the dike once more and threatening Grindavík. While the town’s evacuation order remains in effect, Grindavík residents are permitted to enter the town to retrieve belongings and maintain their homes and properties. Some businesses in the town have also restarted operations.

As always, volcanic activity is difficult to predict. As the last eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula have shown, Iceland has some of the best-monitored volcanoes in the world, but despite this, when, where, and if an eruption will occur can be difficult to say with precision, even for experts. With that warning out of the way, here’s what we know so far about the latest phase of seismic activity on the Reykjanes peninsula.

Earthquakes and uplift on Reykjanes

An earthquake swarm began on the Reykjanes peninsula on the night of October 24, 2023 just north of the town of Grindavík. On October 27, the land in the area began to rise, indicating a magma intrusion in the earth below. The intrusion was later confirmed by experts, some 4-5 kilometres [2.5-3.1 miles] below the surface of the peninsula, not far from where three eruptions have occurred over the last three years.

The magma intrusion has since grown and lengthened to stretch below the town of Grindavík and out to sea. In late November, some experts suggested that most of the magma in the intrusion had solidified, though fresh magma was still believed to be streaming in. So far, no volcanic unrest has been detected. This is the fifth time that deformation has been measured at this location since 2020. None of the previous instances resulted in an eruption.

Threat posed to Svartsengi power plant

Current data and measurements indicate that another eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula is still a possibility. Given the possible location of an eruption, there is a real danger posed to operations at Svartsengi, which is the main supplier of electricity and water to the Reykjanes peninsula. Iceland’s Parliament passed a bill on November 13 to enable the building of lava barriers around the power plant and the Blue Lagoon and construction has begun and is ahead of schedule.

Town of Grindavík

In the path of an eruption for the fourth time now, Grindavík was evacuated on the evening of November 10 according to existing evacuation plans. Residents have since been permitted to enter the town temporarily to retrieve belongings, valuables, and pets that may have been left behind. The town has experienced significant damage due to the ongoing seismic activity, including cracks in roads and buildings, damage to water and electrical infrastructure, and crevasses that have opened up throughout the town. Experts have stated that an eruption would be preceded by shallow earthquakes and volcanic unrest, which would give at least 30 minutes warning before magma broke through above ground.

Tourism affected

The Blue Lagoon was closed on November 9, initially only until November 16. The company came under some criticism for not closing operations earlier, especially after tour operator and transit company Reykjavík Excursions ceased trips to the lagoon on November 7, citing concerns for staff and customer safety. The closure was extended several times before the lagoon officially reopened on December 17, 2023. While the lagoon itself as well as its on-site restaurant are open to visitors, the hotel remains closed for the time being in line with the continued overnight evacuation of Grinavík.

Resources

In addition to following our news coverage, readers may find the following resources useful:

The Icelandic Met Office

SafeTravel, for travel warnings and tips for staying safe.

The Icelandic Road Administration and its live map of road closures throughout Iceland.

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

Iceland Review magazine published a photo series on the evacuation of Grindavík.

This article will be updated regularly.