Glacial Outburst Flood Has Begun in Grímsvötn

Vatnajökull Grímsfjall Grímsvötn Bárðarbunga Kverkfjöll Jöklar Jökull Vísindi

A glacial outburst flood has begun in Grímsvötn beneath Vatnajökull glacier, experts have confirmed. An M4.3 earthquake at Grímsfjall this morning alerted experts to increased activity at the site. While such floods are known to increase the likelihood of volcanic eruptions, there are no indications an eruption is imminent at the site.

In an interview with RÚV, Professor of Geophysics Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson confirmed the glacial outburst flood began several days ago in the highland region. Elevated water levels have already reached inhabited areas further south, but they are not significant. “There is more water in Gígjukvísl river,” Magnús Tumi stated. “However, this is not a big event, it just looks like the summer water levels. It’s not a lot and it’s equivalent to a small or medium-sized glacial outburst flood in Skaftá river.”

Strongest earthquake in a long time

The M4.3 earthquake that occurred just before 7:00 AM this morning is “noteworthy,” according to Magnús Tumi. He says it’s “the biggest one we know of there for a very long time.” The earthquake hasn’t been followed by others of a similar magnitude, however, and appears to be a one-off event.

What is a glacial outburst flood?

Grímsvötn is an active volcano located beneath Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier. It has the highest eruption frequency of all the volcanoes in Iceland, but is located far from any inhabited areas. The geothermal and volcanic activity at Grímsvötn causes regular glacial outburst floods, known as jökulhlaup. Such outbursts are triggered by geothermal heating beneath the glacier which causes ice to melt, and eventually be abruptly released from beneath the glacier, into the surrounding water systems.

Magnús Tumi says Grímsvötn is now in a period of increased activity, which typically lasts between 60-80 years. It last erupted in 2011.

Search Continues for Man Lost in Grindavík

grindavík evacuation

The search continues for a man who is believed to have fallen into a crevasse in Grindavík, Southwest Iceland, yesterday morning. The man was working to fill the crevasses formed by earthquakes and volcanic activity in November of last year. Conditions at the site are difficult and risky.

Police received reports of the accident yesterday between 10:00 and 11:00 AM, according to a notice from Suðurnes Police. According to the notice, the ground beneath some work equipment at the site gave way and the man fell into a deep crevasse that opened as a result. There were no witnesses at the scene.

When the accident occurred, the man was working in Grindavík’s Vesturhóp street to fill a crevasse. The work was intended to ensure the safety of the environs and the security of a house that was located nearby.

Eruption over, risk of another looming

The town of Grindavík 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. A short, but powerful eruption occurred northeast of the town between December 18 and 21 and volcanologists say that another could occur soon.

Westman Islands Named Top Travel Destination

Westman Islands Vestmannaeyjar

The New York Times has named the Westman Islands as a top travel destination for 2024. The South Iceland archipelago appears on the Times’ list of 52 places to go this year, alongside Paris, France, which will host the Olympics this summer, and less conventional destinations, like Maberly, Newfoundland (Canada).

Westman Islands attractions

In its description of what to see and do in the Westman Islands, the Times mentions the archipelago’s puffin colony, which is the largest in the world. It also recommends rib boat trips around the islands, the Beluga whale sanctuary, and riding ATVs into the crater of the Eldfell volcano, which erupted in 1973. The article also highlights the islands’ culinary offerings.

Iceland had over 2.2 million visitors in 2023, according to data collected at Keflavík International Airport by the Icelandic Tourist Board. The numbers have only once been higher: in 2018, when over 2.3 million foreign citizens departed through Keflavík.

Westman Islands Slippurinn restaurant Gísli Matt
Golli. Chef Gísli Matt at Slippurinn restaurant on Heimaey island.

What is interesting about the Westman Islands?

Iceland Review has visited the Westman Islands often in recent years, most recently on an exclusive scientific expedition to Surtsey, an islands in the archipelago formed by a volcanic eruption in 1963. We tasted some of the islands’ culinary offerings via chef Gísli Matthías Auðunsson’s restaurant Slippurinn. One of the island’s best-known locals is musician Júníus Meyvant, whom we visited last year for an insight into his creative process.