An eruption began at approximately 8:00 on the morning of January 14. The eruption site is much closer to the Reykjanes town of Grindavík than the previous eruption, which commenced on December 18th.
On this occasion, the town of Grindavík had been evacuated the day before, following a series of troubling seismic readings and magma caldera measurements which at that time indicated about a 50/50 chance of another eruption beginning. As such, all residents of the town are safe.
How dangerous is the volcano in Reykjanes?
While the eruption has just begun, volcanologists are already comparing it to last December’s eruption, i.e., a fissure eruption that may run its course in a relatively short span of time. The course of volcanoes are notoriously hard to predict, even after an eruption has begun, so these are only the best estimates of educated professionals. Volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson told RÚV that this eruption “is about 1/3 to 1/6 the lava output of the previous eruption”, or about 50 to 100 cubic metres per second. He also pointed out that “slower” volcanoes tend to last longer.
Is Grindavík in any danger?
Unfortunately, this eruption has occurred much closer to Grindavík than the previous one, and while lava flow defense walls were dug out over the past month, the fissure has opened on both sides of those walls. At around noon the same day, a second fissure opened just metres from the town. Meanwhile, rescue workers have been building earthen walls between the lava flow and the town as fast as they are able. While these walls have kept lava from the initial eruption at bay for the time being, lava from the second eruption reached the first house in Grindavík at around 2:00 PM.
Lava ended up not only burning three homes. The town is without electricity or hot and cold water, and lava flow reportedly covered water piping to the town. Residents will need long term housing, financial support and counseling, which Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has pledged to provide.
Grindavík, which is home to some 3,600 people, is situated on the south cost of the Reykjanes peninsula in southwest Iceland. The town was in the midst of repairs from the previous eruption last December when this eruption occurred. While no lava flow reached the town at that time, there was considerable destruction done to the town in the form of crevasses which opened up throughout the town, doing damage to roads and other infrastructure.
The town has had a rough go of it, as this is the fifth such eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula in just four years. It seems likely that the volcanic systems on this peninsula are entering another stage of high activity. In addition, a search that was launched last Sunday for a man who fell into a crevasse was called off due to increased safety risks of rescue workers.
Is it safe to travel to Iceland?
At the time of this writing it is still safe to fly to Iceland. The eruption does not threaten Keflavík International Airport nor Reykjanesbraut, the main highway between the airport and the greater Reykjavík area.
Some tourist and activities and centres, such as the Blue Lagoon, may be closed. One can simply visit the official sites or the social media accounts of whatever you may have had booked in the area to check. It is also advisable to check your airline as well, even though conditions at the airport are still normal.
Is it possible to visit the eruption site?
In a word, no. This eruption is not a so-called “tourist volcano”, i.e., an eruption far from any infrastructure that may be visited safely. This eruption is very close to the town of Grindavík, is still in its early stages and as such is a very dangerous area to visit. Only earth scientists, Civic Protection, the Icelandic Coast Guard, rescue workers and other relevant parties are permitted near the eruption site.
The Icelandic Red Cross has set up a page with donation options for those wishing to lend support, whether you live in Iceland or abroad. This includes both one-time donations and repeat subscriptions.
How can I stay updated on the eruption in Reykjanes?
Apart from news updates that we provide, below are some links you may find useful as you stay apprised of the situation or your visit to Iceland nears:
The Icelandic Met Office, which provides updates on earthquake and volcano activity.
The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, which provides detailed updates on road conditions all over the country.
Safe Travel, which provides continuously updated information relevant to traveling to and within Iceland.
Isavia, which operates Keflavík International Airport.