Lava Flow Nearing Small Farm and Sea

eruption march 2024

Lava flow from the eruption which began last night on the Reykjanes peninsula in southwest Iceland is beginning to slow down, but newer dangers have arisen.

As reported, the initial fissure, stretching from Hagafell to Stóri Skógfell, was three and a half kilometres long and considerably more powerful than the previous recent eruptions in the area. From this fissure, lava began to flow in two directions: west and south.

The flow to the west has all but stopped, but the lava flowing south is continuing, albeit slowly. However, it presents new dangers if it continues flowing.

This southerly lava flow was diverted away from the town of Grindavík thanks to earthen walls, but the lava is also flowing in the direction of a farm near the south coast of Reykjanes called Hraun (which literally means “lava”).

Hörður Sigurðsson, who lives at Hraun, told reporters that he was very surprised when the eruption began. He and his wife, who is not named, were at the time at Ásabrú, near Keflavík, where they have been for the past few months. They and others had been working on an earthen dam to protect the farm when the eruption occurred, and are now in a state of uncertainty about the future of Hraun, as it is in the lava’s path.

“But you’re so optimistic that everything will be alright,” he said. “You become a little careless this way. You just don’t want to believe anything else; perhaps you’re in some kind of denial.”

Vísir reports that the lava is flowing at a rate of about 20 metres per hour, and is about 400 metres away from Suðurstrandarvegur, the road that runs along the south coast of Reykjanes, at the time of this reporting.

Pálmi Erlendsson, a natural hazards specialist, told reporters that the lava flowing over the road is one thing; it reaching the sea would be a whole other matter. While saying that it is impossible to tell by how much the lava will slow down, if it does reach the sea, it will release large quantities of toxic gases and it would be “unhealthy to live near the area” when, or if, that should happen.

Avalanche Warning in the Westfjords

The Icelandic Met Office has issued an orange warning, the second highest rating, for the Westfjords due to weather conditions that include the danger of avalanches.

A yellow warning is currently in effect for the entire northwest quadrant of Iceland due to high winds and snowfall. In the Westfjords, winds ranging from 15 to 23 metres per second are expected, along with heavy snowfall. Those winds are expected to intensify over the night.

Heavy snowfall and high winds over an area characterised by tall and steep mountains has the combined effect of all the conditions for an avalanche, and the Met Office has issued an avalanche warning for the northern portion of the Westfjords.

Mercifully, it is not believed that these avalanches will reach near any human settlements, although that may change. Roads may find themselves suddenly cut off due to avalanches, and given the forecast weather conditions, rescuing anyone trapped on the roads in an avalanche would be very challenging.

As with any orange warning, it is strongly advised that any travel plans in the area during this time are cancelled. Conditions are expected to clear come Tuesday but, as is often the case with weather in Iceland, this too may be subject to change.

Bohemian Waxwing Returns to East Iceland At Last

After an absence of at least a decade, the Bohemian waxwing has again been spotted in East Iceland, East Iceland news service Austurfrétt reports.

The news comes from data collected from the annual bird count. As reported, BirdLife Iceland (Fuglavernd) encourages Icelanders each year to go outside and mark how many and of which types of birds they spot in their own backyards, or in public parks.

The last time a Bohemian waxwing was seen in East Iceland was during the 2013 bird count, and even then, only eight were spotted. This year, 35 were spotted all over the country, in addition to 13 in the northeast.

Bohemian waxwings are northern birds, most commonly seen across Canada, Russia and Scandinavia. In the winter, they can get very bold in their search for food and enter human settlements. Austurfrétt advises that “there are few things Bohemian waxwings like better than apples”, for those who want to leave food out for these birds.

This article has been changed to reflect that these birds have returned to East Iceland in particular; not Iceland as a whole.

“Most Powerful Eruption” in Recent Years Slowing, May Stop Later Today

volcano, 16.3.24, Reykjanes eruption, eldgos

The eruption on Reykjanes peninsula in southwest Iceland which began last night is, in the words of volcanologist Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, the most powerful of the recent Reykjanes eruptions, telling Vísir:

“This seems to be the most powerful eruption to date. The fissure is about three and a half kilometres long, very active. It reaches from the northern face of Hagafell and northwards to Stóri Skógfell. All of it is very active. … Now it is just a question of how quickly it slows down.” As of this morning, the eruption is now flowing from two fissures, with a combined length of a few hundred metres long.

As reported, the Blue Lagoon and the nearby town of Grindavík have both been evacuated, and electricity to the town has been turned off.

The eruption also does appear to be slowing down, and could even end later today. However, the big uncertainty is how far the lava–which is still flowing–will extend.

There have been two primary lava flows: one flowing roughly west and the other south. The western lava flow has already crossed Grindavíkurvegur, the road which connects Grindavík to Reykjanesbraut, which is the main highway to the greater capital area. The primary concern with this lava flow right now is protecting Njarðvíkuræð, a water line extending from the Svartsengi power plant to the town of Reykjanesbær. Local Suðurnes news reports that efforts are underway to bury this water line in earth to protect it.

The southern lava flow was diverted away from Grindavík thanks to earthen walls constructed for this purpose, and is reaching towards Suðurstrandarvegur, which is the highway that runs along the southern coast of Reykjanes peninsula. At the time of this writing, the lava is only about 450 metres from this road. In the event the lava reaches and covers that road, Bergþóra Kristinsdóttir of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration told reporters they would build a new one, or move it from the affected area.

Víðir Reynisson, the department director of Civil Defense, added that if the lava flow extends even farther south and reaches the sea, there is the very real danger of a steam explosion, which in turn would release a great deal of toxic gases.

Below, you can see a gallery of photos of the eruption posted by Civil Defense (direct link here):

New Eruption Begins in Reykjanes

Grindavík volcanic eruption January 2024

At 8:22 PM Icelandic time this evening, the Icelandic Met Office released a statement saying that due to increased seismic activity and ground surface distortions in the area between Hagafell and Stóra-Skógfell, they believed it likely that an eruption would occur.

An eruption began one minute later, RÚV reports, in what is now being described as the most powerful of the recent Reykjanes eruptions. This marks the fourth eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula since last December.

Lava later began flowing in two main flows, from a fissure about three kilometres long: one to the west, towards Grindavíkurvegur, and another flowing south, reaching the lava of the previous eruption, as well as the earthen walls to the north of Grindavík, which diverted the lava flow from the town. Both the Blue Lagoon and Grindavík have been evacuated.

Speaking to Vísir, volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson said that he estimated that this eruption would peak in about an hour or two. This statement was made at around 9:00 PM Icelandic time. Generally, more powerful eruptions tend to dissipate quicker than slower eruptions.

As always, please do not approach the eruption site, nor stop on Reykjanesbraut to view the eruption better.

At 9:40 PM Icelandic time, the Icelandic Met Office posted the following photo, taken by the Icelandic Coast Guard:

Iceland News Review: Drama in the East and Joyful Reunions

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In this episode of Iceland News Review, political intrigue in the east of Iceland, the economy looking bright as wage agreements are signed, Palestinian families reunited at last, an effort to bring our folk tales home, and much more.

Iceland News Review brings you all of Iceland’s top stories, every week, with the context and background you need. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode!

Another Collective Bargaining Agreement Signed

A new collective bargaining agreement was signed yesterday, Vísir reports, between the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and the labour unions The Electrical Industry Association of Iceland, the food and restaurant union Matvís, the Icelandic Union of Marine Engineers and Metal Technicians, and the printers’ union Grafía.

Stability and gratitude

The contract worked out between the parties is to last four years, and outlines terms similar to the agreement recently approved by the labour union Efling and others last week.

SA director Sigríður Margrét Oddsdóttir told reporters that the aim of the agreement was for “economic stability”, adding, “We are just incredibly proud and grateful after the day today.”

Ball in their court

Kristján Þórður Snæbjarnarson, the director of the The Electrical Industry Association of Iceland, was more guarded in his response to the contract.

While saying that it was indeed good news that their workers had gotten new wage agreements, a pay rise is not the only thing that affects economic stability and keeping up with the cost of living.

“It is also extremely important that interest rates and inflation reduce,” he told reporters, adding, “The ball is in the court of the Central Bank, companies in this country, and state and local authorities to hold back on tariffs and participate in this project with us. That, of course, is what matters. We send the ball their way.”

More negotiations to come

The next major round of labour negotiations is to take place between SA and VR, which is the labour union of employees in commerce, services and offices.

Talks between SA and VR have been contentious, and were recently broken off, but talks between the two parties are set to resume tomorrow.

Political Shake-Up in East Iceland

Neskaupstaður

A controversial municipal council decision regarding area schools has sparked protests, and led to the dissolution of the council majority. Talks are currently being held for the formation of a new council majority, while school employees and many parents continue to object to the proposed changes.

Combining area schools

The story begins in Fjarðabyggð (pop. 5,070) in east Iceland, comprising the towns of Neskaupstaður, Reyðarfjörður, Eskifjörður, Fáskrúðsfjörður, Stöðvarfjörður, Mjóifjörður and Breiðdalsvík. Its municipal council has nine seats, divided between three parties: the Independence Party (four seats), the Progressive Party (three seats), and the regional party Fjarðalistinn (two seats). Up until recently, the council majority consisted of the latter two parties.

Last month, a special work group of representatives of these parties sought to make changes to the school system of the region. As Austurfrétt reported, this would entail combining all regional preschools under the auspices of Leikskóli Fjarðabyggðar, while doing away with the position of assistant principal; combining all regional grade schools under the auspices of Grunnskóli Fjarðabyggðar, also doing away with the assistant principal position; and combining all regional music schools under similar auspices, with the assistant music school director reduced to a 75% position.

The objection

When this proposal was put before the municipal council for a vote, all voted in favour except for one person, Fjarðalistinn representative Hjördís Helga Seljan Þóroddsdóttir. She contends that the move would degrade the quality of the regional schools, and objected to what she said was a lack of cooperation between the council and the schools to work out a solution.

The objection came as a surprise to other members of the council, and while the measure was passed, eight to one, the Progressive Party later announced it was ending its coalition with Fjarðalistinn.

New coalition, same problems

The Progressive Party and the Independence Party are reportedly now in talks over the creation of a new municipal council majority. Should those talks prove successful, challenges over the schooling matter will still remain.

The Icelandic Teachers’ Union has objected to the proposal, which is due to go into effect in August. The union contends that the council does not have the authority to make changes of this degree. In particular, they cite regional law on residential democracy.

Similar objections have been raised by parents’ associations, citing laws for both primary schools and preschools that major decisions must be made in cooperation with parents, which these parents contend was not done.

A petition on the matter, calling for these proposed changes to be ceased, has garnered some 750 signatures. How the municipal council will respond remains to be seen.

72 Palestinians Arrive in Iceland, Many Residence Permit Holders Still in Gaza

Miðborg Reykjavíkur - tekið úr byggingakrana

The 72 Palestinians with Icelandic residence permits who were brought out of Gaza last week have arrived at last in Iceland, RÚV reports. Many, however, have yet to escape.

A cheerful, tearful reunion

These 72 people–24 adults and 48 children–arrived in Iceland last Friday after a long journey from Gaza. Representatives from Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who had been in Cairo since early February, compiled a list of names of Icelandic residence permit holders in Gaza for the approval of Egyptian and Israeli officials. These people were then escorted from the border town of Rafah and into Egypt, from where they traveled to Iceland.

Employees from the Directorate of Labour, the Red Cross and the City of Reykjavík welcomed these new arrivals at Keflavík International Airport. From there, they traveled to Reykjavík where they were greeted by a throng of relatives and well-wishers, in reunions marked by tears of joy, laughter, and many hugs.

Many still in Gaza

About 50 of these arrivals will be staying in Red Cross housing, at least initially, with about two-thirds of them to live in the greater Reykjavík area, and the remaining third to live elsewhere in southwest Iceland.

However, this does not mark the end of the matter.

While the Foreign Ministry has announced that their work in Cairo has concluded, there are still some 32 Palestinians with Icelandic residence permits who are still in the region. Information from the Directorate of Immigration did not specify how many of these Palestinians are in Gaza, but it is estimated that most, if not all, of them are.

These 32 people were granted their residence permits after the Foreign Ministry compiled its list of names, i.e. February 10th. Despite this, the Ministry has said that it has met its obligations but would be monitoring the situation in Gaza.

Icelandic civilian volunteers have been very active in assisting other Palestinians with Icelandic residence permits with getting out of Gaza, and it is therefore likely they will also be assisting these addition Icelandic residence permit holders.

Iceland News Review: Music in the Countryside, Saving Our Sheep

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In this episode of Iceland News Review, a very special music festival is coming your way, more Palestinians with Icelandic residence permits have been rescued from Gaza, possibly the largest police sting operation in Icelandic history, how we may save our sheep from scrapie, and much more.

Iceland News Review brings you all of Iceland’s top stories, every week, with the context and background you need. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode!