Many travellers to Iceland have asked about the potential impact that a volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula might have on Reykjavík. While the usual caveats apply here (when and where the eruption will occur is difficult to tell with precision), the current consensus is that the capital region will remain largely unaffected.
That being said, Reykjavík residents and visitors alike could feel some side effects of the next major eruption in Iceland.
Reykjavík services and utilities
In a worst-case scenario, an eruption could disrupt operations at Svartsengi, a geothermal power plant and the main supplier of water and power to the Reykjanes peninsula. While the Reykjavík area sources its power from other plants, if operations at Svartsengi are disrupted, power from other plants may have to be diverted to keep the lights on in the region. Last winter also saw hot water shortages throughout Iceland, and a disruption to Svartsengi could exacerbate heating prices during the winter. For travellers, this might mean that public pools and geothermal spas could face closures or shortened opening hours.
Draft legislation has also been proposed that would raise property taxes in order to help fund the construction of protective barriers around Svarstengi. A similar increase to sales tax was also introduced to aid in reconstruction after the 1973 Heimaey eruption in the Westman islands. Though these taxes would not be directly passed on to travellers, it is possible that prices could indirectly rise in the wake of a tax hike.
Impact on travel
There has been concern during past eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula that lava flows could disrupt Reykjanesbraut, the main transport artery between Reykjavík and Keflavík International Airport. This is not currently a concern, as it will likely surface somewhere near the town of Grindavík, located on the south coast of the Reykjanes peninsula.
The latest information from the Icelandic Met Office provides a map of the projected lava flow:
Several roads have also been damaged due to seismic activity in the area. Grindavíkurvegur, the main road connecting Grindavík to Reykjanesbraut, was closed on November 10 due to damage. However, road closures are not expected in the capital area.
Though the next eruption is expected to be significantly larger than the previous Reykjanes eruptions, its probable location means that air traffic will likely be unaffected. Located on the south coast of Reykjanes, prevailing wind patterns ought to blow any volcanic fumes south and east, away from the airport.
Previous eruptions have, however, caused some air pollution in the capital area. During the 2022 Meradalir eruption, those with preexisting conditions such as asthma, in addition to children and elderly people, were encouraged to avoid outdoor activity on some days when wind patterns brought the pollution to Reykjavík. As of right now, it is too early to say how an eruption near Grindavík will affect air quality in Reykjavík.
The situation on the Reykjanes peninsula is still unfolding, and it goes without saying that travellers should exercise common sense, stay informed, and listen to the authorities. However, the situation poses no immediate threat to Reykjavík and the greater capital area, and disruptions to the rest of the nation are likely to be minimal.
In addition to following our news coverage, travellers and residents alike may find the following resources useful:
SafeTravel, for travel warnings and tips for staying safe.